Juvenile desensitizationPosted by Bobby G. Frederick on March 10th, 2010
Nothing gets to me quite like spending a morning in the juvenile court. My hat is off to the people that work in there every day. Or not, I haven't decided for sure.
It is difficult to watch children being punished for their parent's failings. Because more often than not, when a child is being sent to DJJ, or sent to alternative placement, that is what is happening. I understand the dilemma that DJJ and prosecutors and judges face - what can be done? A child does not stay in school, how do you force him to go to school? At some point, apparently, the answer is you remove him from his family and send him to live at a boy's home. A child commits crimes and will not stop, how do you change his behavior? You don't, you lock him up at DJJ's prison for kids.
I think that the good people who work in that system quickly become desensitized to the real and immediate pain that families are experiencing right there in front of them. Like the cliche about children becoming desensitized to violence due to the violence on the television, our lawyers and other professionals in the juvenile court become desensitized to the devastating effects that juvenile "justice" has on already devastated families that make their way through the system.
I've seen family court judges talk to children or their parents like they are scum of the earth. I've seen defense lawyers who are representing children in the juvenile court argue for detention when everyone else in the courtroom is asking the judge to release them. I've seen prosecutors verbally attack children with no hint of forgiveness or compassion as they ask a judge to tear them from their family and lock them away. I've seen lawyers plead children to serious crimes, an hour after being handed a file and first meeting with the child. At times there seems to be no rhyme or reason to what happens, and at others it feels as if everyone in the room has thrown up their hands and said "so what?"
I was in juvenile court with an appointed client this morning. She was in court this morning to be sentenced, after being sent to the Coastal Evaluation Center for 45 days. The Coastal Evaluation Center, by the way, is a small compound of grey concrete buildings, surrounded by tall fences with razor wire, located next door to Lieber Correctional which houses the state's death row inmates. This morning she returned to court with a recommendation of probation, which the judge accepted and released her to her mother.
Before she went in front of the judge however, her brother was taken in front of the judge for a probation violation. He would not go to school. DJJ recommended 5 days incarceration, as a wake up call, and recommended continued probation. The prosecutor asked the judge to remove him from his home and send him to DJJ until an alternative placement could be found. His lawyer says "as his lawyer," she has to ask the judge to accept DJJ's recommendation, but then gratuitously adds, "if I were his guardian," she would tell the judge to put him in alternative placement. Wonderful lawyering, that was.
The judge orders that my client's brother be taken from his family and put into an alternative placement. After her brother is taken away through the back door of the courtroom into a cage, my client and I sit at the table. She is sobbing quietly. She was taken through that same door less than two months ago.
The machine keeps moving, with no emotion from anyone in the room except my client whose brother was just taken from her. Until we stop, as I am trying to tell the judge how wonderfully my client adjusted and how well behaved she was at the Coastal Evaluation Center, in mid sentence, I am stopped so that the court reporter can go to the next courtroom and help to fix their recording equipment. My client sits at the table for 20 minutes until the gears begin to grind again. I tell the court again how wonderful she was at the evaluation center.
I tell the court how I felt her pain as she sat next to me after her brother was just taken from her. And how I am not sure if anyone else in this courtroom felt it or saw it, but I want them to know it. I pause, and look around the courtroom, and not a single person is looking at me. She went home on probation. She has the same life that she had before she was brought into the juvenile "justice" system, except with more rules and with the threat of incarceration if she screws up again. Same parents. Will watching her brother get taken away from his family motivate her to go to school? Will she be taken from her family when she does not attend school in the weeks or months to come?
I feel my client's pain when I am standing next to her in that courtroom. If I ever become desensitized to what these very real people are going through as their families are torn apart (or not, as the case may be), I think that I will need to leave and find a job welding on steel beams and trusses, rather than people's lives.
Is anyone's life better because I was there in the juvenile court this morning?
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