The most engaging elements came from the kids themselves. Scrawled on the bottom of handouts, the backs of postcards or between the lines of wrinkled notebook paper, the writings from the kids in a San Diego-area juvenile hall provide a window into much more than just their mind and soul. “I Really don’t Remember my childhood because I’ve tried so hard to block it out,” Brown, a 16-year-old girl inmate, wrote as part of an assignment “Born, Not Raised” author Susan Madden Lankford handed out. “The earliest memory I have is at the age of 11 when I was malested by my grandfather.”
Some wrote elegantly, poetically even, with a form that can only come from practice and attention in literature class – or perhaps just attending class at all. Others struggled to string together coherent sentences, or express their ideas and feelings in terms that could be understood.
Erin Dale, a probation officer in Cobb County, Georgia’s juvenile drug court, has never come across a kid who started using marijuna as young as Zach Dykes. “Seven years old,” Dale said. “Pre-teen, like 11 or 12, is the earliest I’d seen before Zach.”
Zach, 17, is currently in the Cobb County, Ga. Juvenile drug court program. Up until this April, the Hillgrove High School senior had smoked marijuana on and off – mostly on – since he was 7.
Christmas is synonymous with redemption to me. Christmas a few years ago expanded that belief to a higher level. My 16-year-old son would not be joining us for Christmas for the second year in a row. He would be serving time in a federal juvenile correctional facility instead. In September of that year, he was charged with stealing a gun from a local pawn shop. He was questioned for hours. He made the police mad, so he was arrested. My son did not act alone and law enforcement knew it.
In the year that I have worked as a juvenile defender, I have noticed patterns in the types of cases that land on my desk. For instance, now that the school year is in full swing, the overwhelming majority of my juvenile caseload arises from school discipline issues. It seems — at least here in southeast Georgia — as though schools are either no longer interested or no longer equipped to handle discipline in-house. Almost every public school in my rural circuit has police presence in the form of the School Resource Officer (SRO), a uniformed police officer who maintains an office on the school campus. These officers maintain such a vigilant school presence to deter criminal activity such as drug possession/sale, weapon possession and other violent or dangerous activity. The reality is quite different. Increasingly, local school administrators are relying on these SROs and a broad Georgia statute that criminalizes “disruption or interference with operation of public schools” to handle children with behavioral problems. What exactly are the definitions for “disruption” and “interference”?
In 1858, the San Francisco Industrial School, California’s first large juvenile facility opened its doors and ushered in a new era of large dormitory-style institutions that would plague California to the present day. Rife with scandal, abuse, violence and a significant deficit of programming, congregate care institutions have proven a failed model since the 19th century. While Missouri and Washington have abandoned this broken system and rebuilt their juvenile justice systems anew, focusing on smaller therapeutic regional facilities; California continues to fixate on an archaic system with large training schools that cannot be repaired. Currently, California operates a dual system of juvenile justice — probation, group homes, ranches and camps are provided by its 58 counties, while the state provides youth prisons reserved for adolescents who have committed a serious or violent offense as defined in the state’s Welfare and Institutions Code. All parole and reentry services are provided by the counties.
Strong antipsychotic medications are being prescribed to incarcerated juveniles across Louisiana despite lacking diagnoses for the conditions they were designed to treat, according to an investigative report by New Orlean’s The Lens. The medications are meant to help with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. After examining their records, The Lens found 22 percent of medications prescribed in eight Louisiana facilities were designed to treat bipolar disorder. But, only five percent of diagnoses were of bipolar, the investigative news site found. No diagnoses of schizophrenia were made. The most common diagnosis (found in 20 percent of incarcerated juveniles) was “conduct disorder.
Central Florida’s Polk County has become the first jurisdiction in that state to make plans under a new state law to house juveniles who are awaiting trial in adult jail rather than in a state juvenile detention center, according to NewsChief.com, a Winter Haven, Fla., news site. That change was made possible because Polk Sheriff Grady Judd pushed state Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, to sponsor a bill in this year’s Florida Legislature that loosens the standards county jails must meet to house juveniles. The state currently charges counties $237 per day to hold each juvenile in pretrial detention, and that rate is expected to rise later this year. Judd told NewsChief.com that the county expects to spend $70-$90 per day per juvenile detainee. He predicts the switch will save the county around $1.5 million.
Using evidence-based practices in the juvenile justice system reduces delinquency and avoids costs. Those of us in the field hear this regularly – but it can be hard to see their impact on a day-to-day basis. How do we know they work? Let’s start at the beginning. What we commonly refer to as “evidence-based practices” in the juvenile justice field are based on over 40 years of research regarding what works to reduce juvenile crime.
The Second of a Three-Part Series by the Judge on the Subject of Trying Juveniles as Adults. I took the bench and asked if the parties were ready to proceed. “Yes, your Honor,” they all announced in unison. I looked up and saw a young man, 16 years old, trying hard to hold back his tears. His parents sitting to his left, his attorney to his right — his hands quivering.
Who knew that an innovative initiative that is showing dramatic success in decreasing the number of children incarcerated in Clayton County was actually sparked by a “failure” in the system. So goes the story of how Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske was inspired to create the Finding Alternatives for Safety and Treatment (FAST) panel, a program that statistics show is having a major impact in the county.
Teske says the case of a young man now serving a life sentence for murder actually prompted the idea for to him to start the program. “The system had failed him on so many levels; by the time he’d gotten to the seventh grade he was reading on a first grade level and no one had ever intervened,” recalls Teske, of the teen who, after years of run-ins with the law, ultimately gunned down a security guard during a botched robbery. Several studies have linked lack of education to criminal behavior. Teske firmly believes that if school leaders and social service agencies had intervened earlier, he would have evaded the very gang life that ended up taking away his life and that of an innocent man.