Colorado State Legislature and School Districts Attempt A More Rationale Approach To Colorado Juvenile Criminal Law and School Discipline in a Post Columbine World
A recent article in the Denver Post finally addresses the most recent attempts by Colorado Schools – hopefully to be followed by the Colorado State legislature – to reverse years of Zero-Tolerance policies in Colorado’s Public Schools and in the Courts.
Last year in December – another excellent article in the Denver Post quoted a Magistrate Kent Spangler, a Fort Collins Judge, who had this to say:
“Kids won’t gain a respect for the law, for their parents, for teachers, for rules in general if they’re told ‘You’re wrong! You messed up!’ and don’t take the time to get at the root of the problem,”
As an experiencd former Colorado Front Range Career Prosecutor -DA and now a Colorado Crimiinal Defense Lawyer – I am always impressed by judges who take the time to “teach” individuals before them about the law and the impact of their acts on their families, the victims, or society. Judge McGahey in Denver, Judge Ollada and Benze in Arapahoe County, and the list goes on and on.
Colorado has some of the best and most caring judges in the nation in my opinion.
Zero Tolerance policies – enacted after the so called Summer of Violence in the 1980’s and following the Columbine Case – were and continue to be mindless – knee jerk reactions to complex problems. Juveniles have little life experience to fully understand the nature of their actions and the laws need to address those more difficult underlying issues.
The vast majority of crimes committed by juveniles ultimatley involve alcohol and low level drug offenses- – both of which are typically minor offenses in the criminal justice system.
The exposure of these kids in the juvenile justice system will have the kind of impact that is difficult to measure.
“These kids aren’t monsters. They’re kids! Sure they’ve gotten a little off track but you can’t write them off. You have to show them what they’re worth- appeal to their intellect- and when they start to believe they can do better, they will,” said Spangle
In an article by Kevin Simpson – Kevin highlights the debate – “that the well-intentioned pendulum swing toward zero tolerance (after Columbine) resulted in a loss of perspective — something he saw illustrated in his jurisdiction by the 2009 suspension of a Cherry Creek School District student for bringing non-functioning, drill-team rifles to school in her car.”
H. Michael’s Take
The task force addressing a revamping of Colorado’s Juvenile Code – needs our support – to take a more rational view of the Colorado Juvenile Justice System – New statewide legislation – taking a reasoned approach to the complex issues behind juvenile crime – is what we need today.
Hurrah for the pendulum swing – let’s hope it continues it’s swing away from the Post-Columbine zero tolerance approach. Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, who has introduced Senate Bill 46, regarding the revamp of school dicipline laws – is on the right track.