The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of four young people who were targeted by a diversion program for “pre-delinquent” youths in Riverside County, California.
The Appeal reports 400 students in 17 school districts were pressured to enroll in the Youth Accountability Team (YAT) program to avoid juvenile court. The kids would be labeled “pre-delinquent” or “delinquent” for minor disciplinary issues, bad grades and mental health issues.
One plaintiff, identified as Andrew M., was sent to the program after an orange he was playing with rolled through a police officer’s legs. The officer searched Andrew and found marijuana in his bag. He signed the contract for YAT while sitting in a windowless room with his family at the police station. Andrew was 13-years-old.
Despite adhering to program requirements and being subjected to random searches, home visits and class interruptions, authorities still charged him with marijuana possession. His sentence included 10 hours of community service, a drug test and a fine.
According to the lawsuit, the program doesn’t follow due process, and students are often subjected to unlawful searches. Students of color are overwhelmingly represented in the program. Black students were 2.5 times more likely than white students accused of a violation under Section 601(b), a vague statute that places students on probation for “persistent[ly] or habitual[ly] refuse to obey the reasonable and proper orders or directions of school authorities.”
Students who end up in YAT often sign contracts without legal counsel present and walk away with a faulty understanding of their rights due to a lack of involvement from the courts.
“It’s kind of like this expedited version of the school-to-prison pipeline by having this extrajudicial system operating exclusively through the school,” Hannah Comstock of the ACLU told The Appeal.
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