It Is Time for a Change, When Schools traumatize Kids

How we respond to young people when they make us mad can make or break them, emotionally and physically. Notwithstanding the studies showing genetic pre-disposition to alcoholism and other traits, we enter this world with a blank slate. We are born with great potential to do wonderful things and experience that happiness as referenced in the Declaration of Independence. Despite our inalienable right to pursue happiness, this pursuit is thwarted for many children and young people who are traumatized at the hands of their parents or caretakers through abuse, neglect, violence and other toxic stressors. The blank slate brought into the world gets filled with some pretty ugly scribbling that makes it difficult for the rest of us to understand, including the child.

The Heavy Price Society Pays for the No-Daddy Factor

Lennie came to me about 18 months ago, with an attitude. He was a gangbanger and liked to rob people — by force. Not a very nice kid. His mother cried in court as Lennie looked on with emotion — the kind where the eyes roll and he is thinking, “Whatever!” So back during that bad time: Lennie is making straight “F’s,” doesn’t come home some nights, curses his mother, and Daddy is not around.

Judge Teske Gives Voice to Juvenile Justice Reforms on National Stage

Regular JJIE contributor Judge Steve Teske was recently featured in The Washington Post for his crusade to end the school-to-prison-pipeline. The Post examines how Teske’s work to reduce schools’ referrals to juvenile court has gained a national audience.

Teske says zero tolerance policies have resulted in too many kids entering the juvenile justice system. In Teske’s opinion, “zero tolerance often means overpunishment for low-level misdeeds,” according to The Post. Because of that, he helped bring reforms to his home community of Clayton County, Ga., where Teske is chief juvenile judge. Since implementing the changes, juvenile crime has dropped, recidivism is down and graduation rates are up.

Teske, the story says, remains tough on crimes involving guns and drugs.

“The cases we have in court now are the burglars, the robbers — the kids who scare you, not the kids who make you mad,” Teske told The Post.

As Teske travels the country speaking about the need for reform, the success of Clayton County, The Post notes, is now inspiring communities in Connecticut, Indiana and Kansas, among others, to implement similar reforms.

And Teske is quick to point out his own teenage lapse in judgment, a school prank that today would have landed him in juvenile court. At 13, he pulled his school’s fire alarm but his principal insisted the school handle Teske’s punishment.

“Would I even be a judge today had I gone to jail that day?” he asked in The Post.

Clayton County, Ga. Juvenile Probation Officer Ronaldi Rollins

An Inside Look at a Typical Day on the Street with a Clayton County Juvenile Probation Officer

Ronaldi Rollins’ view from his corner office on the third floor is typical of metro Atlanta. A parking lot, some two-story apartment building, all nestled in the middle of a bunch of pine trees. Welcome to Jonesboro, Ga., command central for one juvenile probation officer in charge of 20 struggling teens. To pay a visit to Rollins, a kid has to make it past two levels of security. First, the metal detector and officer at the front door.

Judge Steven Teske On the Tragic Shooting Death of a Deputy and the Boy Accused of Killing him

I was in my car recently listening to news radio when I heard that one of our deputies was killed trying to apprehend an armed robbery suspect.  I was shocked and pained — I knew the deputy.  What followed magnified my pain. It quickly morphed to anger — the suspect was Jonathon Bun, a 17 year old with juvenile court history in my county. In this business we must ask ourselves: “Could we have done anything different to prevent this tragedy?”  I understand Mr. Bun is innocent until proven guilty, but solely for the purpose of self-assessment, there is much we can learn from Mr. Bun and his journey through the juvenile justice system that may improve the way we do business — that could reduce the number of victims-and maybe save lives. We know from the research that 8 percent of all kids arrested for the first time are serious high-risk offenders.  We call them the “8 Percent Problem.”  This small percentage of juveniles are arrested repeatedly (a minimum of four times within a 3-year period) and are responsible for about 55 percent of repeat cases. In other words, most of the serious juvenile crimes are committed by a handful of kids in our communities.  If we can target that 8 percent, we can significantly reduce serious juvenile crime.  We call that the “8 Percent Solution.”

We have also learned from the research that this “8 Percent Problem” population possesses identifiable characteristics.

Judge Steve Teske: The Blame Game – The Winner Loses and The Kids are Hurt

It was 1999, I was recently appointed to the juvenile bench, and we had a new presiding judge. A meeting was called to discuss the direction of the court.   Among several issues, we were concerned about the number of complaints filed by School Resource Officers (SRO) and decided to meet with the Chief of Police to discuss other alternatives to filing complaints.  We were prepared for the meeting. We had data reflecting an increase in referrals by over 1,000 percent since the inception of the SRO program in the mid nineties.  The data was broken down by offenses and most were misdemeanors primarily involving school fights, disorderly conduct, and disrupting public school.

Judge Steve Teske: The Good Shepherd

I was thirteen years old when I was called to the principal’s office. As I sat in the waiting area, I could hear two police officers from inside the office telling the principal they were going to arrest me. My stomach got weak and my eyes began to well up with tears. My world crashed all around me. At that moment I wished I could turn back the hands of time – I couldn’t.

Judicial Insight

When a writer comes along who touches your conscience, you want to tell people.  So we are pleased to tell you that Judge Steven Teske of Clayton County Juvenile Court is now writing for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange at  He is currently sharing stories from his childhood and his life that are filled with surprise and insight. His stories are sometimes funny, often poignant, and always make you think. In “The Good Shepherd,” we hear about the dare that almost got him arrested, and the middle school principal who saved his bacon. In “Making Adults Mad –When Did That Become a Crime?” he reveals what happened when he got his first BB gun for Christmas. In “The Silent Majority” he talks about the unsung heroes who help “crossover” kids.