Saturday, July 07, 2007

Out of our minds: Isn't felony graffiti overkill for 6th graders?

Texas' notorious punitive fetish is beginning to make us look ridiculous when it comes to punishing everyday juvenile behaviors as "crimes."

Have the adults running our schools become bereft of shame? How can this be justified? Reports the Houston Chronicle ("Writing on school wall gets Katy sixth grader pulled," 7-7):

Shelby Sendelbach, a sixth-grader in the Katy Independent School District, was read her rights, ticketed and punished with a mandatory four-month assignment to an alternative school because she wrote "I love Alex" on a gymnasium wall with a baby blue Sharpie.

The graffiti offense is a Level 4 infraction in the district's discipline plan, along with making terroristic threats, possessing dangerous drugs, and assaulting with bodily injury. Only a Level 5 — for murder, possessing firearms, committing aggravated or sexual assault, arson or other felonies — is more severe. ...

The Harris County district attorney's office declined to prosecute the case as a felony. But school district spokesman Steve Stanford said the district is following a state law that requires mandatory removal to a disciplinary alternative education school for such an offense.

The district's discipline plan complies with the Texas Education Code. Under it, a district can remove a student who commits a crime that is punishable as a felony.

So, the DA doesn't think the offense should (or will) be prosecuted as a felony, but the school substitutes its own judgment and sends her to the same alternative school where they send actually dangerous kids. Clearly the school THINKS of her behavior as felonious (at least, that's their argument) whether she's prosecuted that way or not. Personally I think of her behavior as utterly typical of every sixth grade girl I've ever known.

Is school discipline worth this? Does it actually create a better learning environment? And who will learn in this environment, if every 6th grade girl with a crush and a Sharpie is removed from school?

For my part, I recall carving such missives into desks and the occasional wall with a pocket knife I carried to school every day from third grade on. If schools and state law consider this girl a felon and bounce her out of class, I honestly doubt I could ever have made it through under the current regime.

Katy school officials defend their decision by insisting it was "legal" under state law, implying it might even have been required (a CYA moment if I ever heard one). But who cares? The much more important question is whether what they did was right. And it was not. It was petty, small-minded and short-sighted. This is a ridiculous waste of time for the school and source of trauma for the child and her family.

Katy sounds like a nasty place to grow up, doesn't it? I'm going to go hang out at Dirty Third Streets, where the people are friendlier.

UPDATE: More from Half Empty, The Barbershop Notebooks, and the Houston Chronicle's Inside Katy blog, which asks, "What effect, if any, do you think media focus on the case might have on the Katy area?" My guess: It just makes the rest of the planet think people who live there and tolerate such antics from their school district are a bunch of mean-spirited buffoons. What else? Perhaps it might convince more reasonable people to simply stay away. This kind of stuff has been happening in Katy ISD consistently for a while now. The locals must want it that way. It might even cause some fed up Katy families to leave town. If it were me, I'd absolutely move in order to keep my kid outta there.


Anonymous said...

Texas lawmakers chart new brand of Lone Star justice
Mark Levin
Sunday, July 1, 2007

America, the land of the unfree?
AUSTIN — People suffering from depression must often hit rock bottom before they get better. The same can be said for criminal justice in Texas. Few could have imagined the abuses that surfaced earlier this year at the Texas Youth Commission, but they led to landmark reform legislation. Indeed, reforms made this session indicate that lawmakers are finally rethinking all aspects of the criminal justice system.

The common thread in the reforms is reversing the trend of a widening incarceration net and instead promoting alternatives for low level, non-violent offenders. Make no mistake, Texas should incarcerate violent offenders and sexual predators, but prison isn’t the only hammer and every lawbreaker isn’t a nail.
Ideally, TYC would have been reformed earlier and without a scandal. After all, Texans were paying $57,000 per youth per year for lockups with a recidivism rate of more than 50 percent. The budget for TYC will now be reduced as the population is drawn down from 4,800 to 3,100 through review panels to release youths who have been rehabilitated, and by not incarcerating youth convicted of misdemeanors such as graffiti and alcohol possession. These non-violent kids are better rehabilitated in the community through residential post-adjudication facilities and day treatment programs. On the adult side, the Legislature also focused on the diversion of non-violent offenders to address the projected need for 17,300 new prison beds by 2012. It would cost $1.6 billion to build that many beds and billions more to operate them. The Legislature wisely created 8,000 new beds and slots at residential and outpatient drug and alcohol treatment facilities, intermediate sanctions facilities, and halfway houses. Not only will this capacity divert new non-violent offenders from prison, it will clear out the current backlog of more than 1,500 offenders with substance abuse problems languishing in lockups solely because they are on a waiting list for treatment or a halfway house. The entire projected need for new prison capacity can be eliminated because these new beds and slots turn over several times a year, and at least two TYC lockups will be converted into adult prisons.
It’s offenders like Julie Ghant who should be diverted through the new emphasis on community-based corrections. She recently left the women’s prison in Gatesville with only used men’s clothing, a bus ticket, and $50. Yet taxpayers paid $65,000 over four years to incarcerate this mother of six for drug possession. Some 70 percent of Texas inmates have children, and these children are seven times more likely to eventually be incarcerated. While California’s general population is 50 percent greater, Texas inexplicably has more women prisoners, most of whom are drug users or shoplifters.
More than 10,000 new prison admissions are probationers revoked for technical violations, which means they did not commit a new crime but missed meetings or violated a curfew. The Legislature continued the policy enacted in 2005 of making some probation funding dependent on departments implementing progressive sanctions to minimize technical revocations. This incentivizes the use of measures short of prison such as picking up trash on the side of the road, mandatory treatment, or even shock nights in county jail to address technical violations. This policy has already saved taxpayers $119 million in incarceration costs. But criminal justice should not be first and foremost about either offenders or the government but victims. Property and violent crimes are violations of another person’s right to their possessions, life, and peace of mind. That’s why victims deserve a greater role in determining punishments. More must be done in each of these areas, and hopefully it won’t take another criminal justice crisis to spur action.
© 2007 Abilene Reporter-News

Anonymous said...

Abilene Police Department Report
Latest audio report from APD
Last night at approximately 12:25 a.m., Officer Kimberly Watkins observed a 15-year-old black male suspect spraying graffiti on a south wall of Madison Middle School. The suspect saw Officer Watkins and ran into a nearby alley and lay down. The suspect was located and would not comply with Officer Watkins' instructions; therefore, pepper was used to gain the suspect’s cooperation. The suspect was arrested and taken to Taylor County Juvenile Detention Center and charged with state jail felony graffiti and class B misdemeanor evade arrest.
© 2007 Abilene Reporter-News

Anonymous said...

Same thing as a terroristic threat, huh? That Alex must be one bad mofo.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Yes, Alex is SO evil that any affection or compassion shown toward him might actually destroy the space-time continuum (or whatever it was they always called it on Dr. Who).

Actually a heart with Alex's name in it in certain 6th grade girl cultures (especially among G.R.I.T.S., or Girls Raised In The South) has similar qualities to a pentagram in classic Satanic witchcraft (with the caveat that obviously Alex is more powerful, and dangerous, than Satan). Clearly the Katy ISD administrators prevented untold damage and chaos worthy of a dashed-off Stephen King novel through their pre-emptive strike.

Meanwhile, the poor kid in Abilene probably will get hit with a felony for graffiti at a middle school; he was pepper sprayed to add injury to insult. I'm not defending the offense, just criticizing the overreaction. Is a state jail felony and a trip to TYC the right thing for this kid, or would it be better to put him on misdemeanor probation and make him clean up graffiti around town once a week for a year as a probation condition? Which approach teaches better character lessons - a trip to TYC or making weekly reparations in his own community specific to his offense?

Graffiti is the oldest human art form. Personally I wish there was a way a more respectable place could be made for it in the modern world. I see a lot of boring, blank walls out there that could use some jazzing up.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of blank walls that need jazzing up with more thoughtful gang boundary graffiti as well as tender messages of racial conflict graffiti.

Heck, maybe your house will be tagged next. That would be cute, right?

Anonymous said...

No Henson, he doesn't need to come our way... yet. Your idea is much more appropriate. Have him clean up others "art" for a year. This is the kind of kid we don't need.

Funny thing. My daughter was the student council President in her 5th grade year. She was also their version of the "Homecoming queen."

My daughter was cold-busted writing "I love Jeffery" in the bathroom stalls! Her consequence? She had to go on the intercom and make a public apology and had to come up with a campaign discouraging "tagging." She never did it again. It was poetic justice for a 5th grader!

Anonymous said...

Hey 5:19.... I guess you think Whitsfoe's daughter should be sent to TYC? You're crazy. I know him, and I know he'd defend his daughter, and any other kid for that matter that is being sent to the Commission for such non-sence. Katy I.S.D. board members are out of their minds if they were O.K. with that decision.

Anonymous said...

"There are a lot of blank walls that need jazzing up with more thoughtful gang boundary graffiti as well as tender messages of racial conflict graffiti."

Classic - all graffiti is gang driven or racist. There's a good start at understanding the problem. Sounds like a cop.

I did a small amount of tagging when I was a teenager and I wasn't a gang member or a thug. In most small Texas towns every Senior class at the local HS tags local hotspots before they graduate each spring. Are they felons, every one?

Some of these other punishments might have stopped me from the graffiti violations in my misspent youth, but I certainly wasn't afraid of being arrested!

And while we're on the subject, Class of '92 Rules!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Whitsfoe, come on, don't you think an indeterminate sentence at TYC would better suit the bill? It's a FELONY after all. And according to one commenter it indicates she's probably a member of a gang. As usual, I blame poor parenting. ;)

Seriously - everybody when I was in school knew the girl's bathroom had better graffiti than the boys. After all, they tended to congregate there for long stretches to talk while boys more typically took care of business and left. The concept of felony graffiti blows my mind.

If y'all haven't seen it, check out this little Austin-based documentary on bathroom graffiti. It's pretty fun.

Anonymous said...

That video was HILARIOUS!!!!!

So my girl wrote “I love Jeffery” in the bathroom stall as she served as President of the Student Counsel. Like the Homecoming Queen has a gun…. Except it’s a pen…. Felony offence? My daughter a gang member? If it’s going to have an impact on her “nail appointment,” no way, but I do worry about a Paris Hilton kinda gang that relies on serious revenue that I don’t have!

My boy??? No problem. We’ll fish for our food. And dove season is just a few months away…..

Marissa said...

Imagine if this policy was enforced consistently in every school in Texas. Gee, the "naughty kid" schools would have more students than the mainstream schools.

Would it have been different if she wrote "I <3 Jesus"? Would that be a felony in the good ol' Christian state of Texas?

Anonymous said...

Cute Graffiti Leads to Serious Graffiti, just like smoking pot will lead to crystal meth.

5th/6th grade cutesy graffiti "I love you alex on the gym wall will eventually lead to 9th grade "alex I'm pregnant please lets leave the barrio gang to be good parents", spray painted on his parent’s garage.

Get the message – graffiti kills!

Anonymous said...

Good Lord, I'm amazed to read that there are still people that believe marijuana leads to "harder drugs" and so on and so fourth.

That is a lot of hog wash put out by a bunch of beaurecrats with too much time on their hands.

It is a good thing that most people recognize propaganda when they see it.

As for the children, they are a lot more likely to grow up to be good citizens if we provide an example of good citizenship rather than putting them in jail for being young and innocent!

tttt said...

Gee, isn't it amazing that illegal aliens can enter this country with absolutely no legal ramifications and enroll their children in our public schools for free yet, school districts want to criminalize a 6th grader's affection before she's had the chance to have her first pimple.

I would say, make her clean it up and perform some other labor, but that would make too much sense.

The unintended consequence of zero tolerance for kids being kids is future crowded prisons.

Oh, did I say there was a correlation here?

Anonymous said...

im wondering just how stupid we will finally get to be in this country

Anonymous said...

It goes like this! If the school made her clean it up and had her do other duties around the school it would be their responsibility to see that she does it! Easier to pass it off on someone else! Imagine what they would do to a 2 year old that had crayons and a white wall!

Mike C said...

I'll chip in $50 to buy Sharpies, and have the rest of her classmates do the same thing... will they send all 50 to the alternative school, or will they receive different punishment? I almost hope they would receive different sentences, so she could sue the crap out of them...

But hey, that's just me.

Anonymous said...

Mark, do you really believe what you wrote?

Anonymous said...

It is absolutely incredible that supposedly well-educated people cannot distinguish between daydream-driven graffiti and hard-core gang tagging!

Anonymous said...

What have we become, as a society, when it is a crime for a child to behave childishly? Literally a go to jail crime?

What happens to a kid caught smoking a grapevine these days?

She wrote on the wall! She could be scolded and made to scrub or paint over her heart work. But, my Lord! Call the police?

That's sick.

What is wrong with us that this child will be prosecuted at all by our government, much less, for a criminal felony?

High Crimes and Misdemeanors?