A lesson plan to go with articles about the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles County, published November – December 2006

By Libby Hartigan, Managing Editor

Grades: 6-12
Subjects: Language Arts, Social Studies, Life Skills

Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour

Overview: In this lesson, students will examine concepts of justice in the juvenile justice system.

Students will:
• Discuss how teens are affected by the juvenile justice system.
• Analyze how different people perceive the juvenile justice system differently.
• Write a persuasive essay.

• copies of November issue of L.A. Youth (one per student)
• pens/pencils
• paper
• classroom whiteboard or blackboard

1. Warm-up: In journals or on separate pieces of paper, ask students to respond to the following prompts written on the board: "The time I felt I was treated fairly was…” or "The time I felt I was treated unfairly was…"

2. Through a class discussion, ask the class to define “fairness.” Do different people in the class have different definitions?

3. Introduce concepts of the juvenile justice system. When teens break the law, they have to go to court. If they cannot afford a lawyer, they are assigned a public defender. The people of California are represented by the prosecution, also called the district attorney or “d.a.” A judge decides what should happen to the youthful offenders.

As a class, read "Scary and confusing: teens who’ve been there tell what court is really like." Through a classroom discussion or individually on separate pieces of paper, ask the class to answer these questions using specific examples from the text (possible answers are listed):

    1. What kinds of things were confusing about the court experience?
    –Adults called out numbers, case loads and names, referring to things that teens don’t know about.
    –It didn’t look like teens expected it to based on what they had seen on TV or in the movies.
    –A judge used words the teen didn’t understand.

    2. What kinds of things were scary about the court experience?
    –A teen felt like no one had respect for him.
    –A teen saw parents take their kid into court, then come out crying without their child.
    –He said he didn’t know what would happen to him.
    –In the holding tank, other kids asked a boy, “Where are you from?”
    –The district attorney wanted to give the boy a harsh consequence.
    –A boy’s attorney told him that he might get sent to the California Youth Authority for several years.
    –Everyone in court stared at the teen.

    3. To these teens, what seemed unfair about the juvenile justice system?
    –They couldn’t speak for themselves.
    –They were sentenced without the judge knowing them well.
    –One boy that it was unfair that he could have been sent to the Youth Authority without the judge hearing what he had to say.

    4. To these teens, what seemed fair about the juvenile justice system?
    –One teen wrote that it was fair for him to do the time since he committed the crime, and he was treated without respect, just as he had treated the law with no respect.
    –Another teen who was arrested six times wrote, “The court saw something in me, that I can change and be a better person.” He said he had gotten therapy and wanted to get his diploma.
    –He thought it was fair that he was placed on house arrest, since his friends had gotten six to nine months in a placement or camp.
    –Another teen said that he was glad he was sent to camp instead of the California Youth Authority.
    –He also said he thought that teens could get something out of placement if they stayed focused.
Writing. Ask students to write a persuasive essay about the juvenile justice, arguing that it is or is not just, using information contained in the statements by these four teens.

Students will be evaluated on their participation in discussion and their individual written work.

Extension Activities:
• Read through all the materials about the juvenile justice system on pages 10-13 of the November issue of L.A. Youth. Create a glossary of terms that teens might need to know, including judge, district attorney, public defender, bailiff, placement, Juvenile Hall, California Youth Authority and other terms that need to be defined.