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California bill would bar jailing of minors for truancy

By Jenniffer Chaussee

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - A bill that would prohibit the jailing of minors who habitually skip school passed a legislative hurdle in California on Tuesday amid a wave of measures aimed at offering second chances to offenders in the most populous U.S. state.

The bill is designed to close a loophole that allows students to be incarcerated if a judge finds they have violated a court order to attend school or that their truancy qualifies as contempt.

“Our efforts will help ensure due process and enhance public safety by giving youth a better chance of not being condemned to a downward spiral of criminal justice system involvement later in life,” said the bill's author, Democratic state Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco.

The bill is one of several efforts to try to break a cycle of lawbreaking and imprisonment faced by many in disadvantaged communities.

Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti voiced support for a new state law barring public agencies from refusing job applications from people convicted of crimes, and pushed city leaders to broaden the measure to private-sector jobs and housing.

A bill making its way through the California Legislature would eliminate a prohibition against certifying people as nurse's aides if they have been convicted of felonies including murder, extortion and sex crimes.

Leno's measure passed the State Assembly's public safety committee alongside two other measures authored by the senator, one that would permanently seal past criminal convictions of juveniles who meet certain educational benchmarks and another that highlights wrongful convictions.

The truancy measure was passed by the state Senate in April, but it must still pass the Assembly before it can be sent to Governor Jerry Brown.

Supporters argued that incarcerating truant youths created a so-called school-to-prison pipeline that can lead to a lifetime in the criminal justice system. Last year, 121 minors were detained for truancy, some of them multiple times, according to the Youth Law Center. The San Francisco-based center represents minors in the foster care and justice systems.

“Criminalizing truancy ... fails to address the underlying issues that cause young people not to attend school,” said the center's argument for the bill. “This bill will eliminate loopholes that ... have been used to imprison young people for contempt or violation of a court order in relation to failure to attend school.”

(Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Peter Cooney)

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