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July 11, 2018
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Law enforcement in Riverside County, California, is coming under fire for its Youth Accountability Team, which places "at-risk" children who have committed no crimes on probation, The Appeal reports.

The program, also known as YAT, takes discipline out of the hands of local schools and keeps a close eye on students who are suspected to be "pre-delinquent" or "delinquent." Students can be referred to YAT for substance abuse and gang association, but also for "poor academics" and "school discipline problems." The ACLU filed a lawsuit against Riverside County last week, explaining that the program went beyond its mission of preventing juvenile crime by essentially criminalizing young students for "typical childhood misbehavior."

According to the lawsuit, YAT also disproportionately affects black and Latino students. Between 2005 and 2016, nearly 13,000 teens were under YAT probation, with 25 percent accused of a noncriminal offense. Black students were 2.5 times and Latino students 1.5 times more likely than white students to be accused of "persistently or habitually" refusing to obey school authorities. The ACLU claims that Riverside officials coerce children into waiving their first and fourth amendment rights, and calls it "astonishingly punitive" to replace school disciplinary systems with criminal prosecution.

The former Riverside County deputy district attorney described the program as a way to "get [youths] into the system by fingerprinting and photographing them," says the lawsuit. "We can do all kinds of surveillance, including wire taps on phones, without having to get permission from a judge," he reportedly said. The program mandates strict curfews, community service, meetings with probation officers, and imposes penalties, without necessarily finding the student guilty of anything but "defiance." YAT "is not only an unlawful tool," writes the ACLU, "it is the wrong tool to help children." Read more at The Appeal. Summer Meza