I do not think prison for juveniles, as institutions, encourage the same amount of change for as community based services. Prisons are not deterrents. They do not reform prisoners. They serve as barely humane punishment for individuals who have violated the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens. Prison, hereafter referred to as The Department, for juveniles, should be the last resort for their safety and the safety of the community. The services provided by The Department, while not as robust as community based services, are better than nothing.
I do not not make this decision lightly. At least, not normally. After I finished my most recent eval, I recommended The Department. It was easier than I expected. In fact, it scared me with the ease in which I came to this decision. I am rather worried about burn out. When Burnout affects a PO, its the kids and communities who suffer. I went over my notes, talked with my coworkers and spent a lot of time examining my rationale. In the end, I was comfortable with my decision. This kid was too dangerous for the community.
Today, while the judge agreed, he felt as if his hands were tied. In essence, she indicated* that she was not comfortable sending this client to The Department given that The State agreed to a plea bargain of 18 months probation.
My coworker blamed the judge. The Judge blamed Probation and the State. The state blamed the judge. I felt bad for the victim.** The blame game ignores the fact that the system has failed the victim, the community and the offender.
Probation has been told not to violate probation for failure to attend school. There are other options at the disposal of probation to correct this behavior. This wasn’t done. The state, who knew of these issues, did not take them into account when they made the deal. The judge, who was furious with the State for making the Deal, ignored the opinions of two probation officers because they differed so greatly from the deal AND because the minor has not had additional findings. He just had additional police contacts. In fact, he had more police contacts than the rest of my case load cases combined (and doubled).
My colleague should have documented the sanctions she put in place. The state should have grilled me about my recommendations. Finally, the judge should have recognized that her hands were not tied by the agreement. When the agreement was made, they had no idea as to how patterned this kid’s aggression is. They made the JSO evaluation as a formality. Given that we work with a wide range of kids, I do not think the state expected this particular client to be regarded as such a danger to society.
To be clear, this kid is a danger to society. It is only a matter of time before he offends again. What happened today was not a fault of the system. The failure today stems from the players within the system. The fault lies with the individuals who saw their job as a distinct from the rest of the system.
The kid was released with a number of sanctions and supervisions that he will be caught when he violates his probation order. According to the judge, this will be enough to send him to the Department. We, as probation, should not set up a client to fail to keep the community safe. We should get it right the first time.
*I am aware I’m changing the gender of my pronouns. It is for an added level of confidentiality.
**Honestly, all the players–except the client (But including the Public Defender)—felt for the victim. The state made the plea offer to protect the victim from the additional trauma of testifying. Before being sexually assaulted, she was suffering from some mental health issues. After the offense, she is doing worse. She hasn’t received any additional services. In short, she’s being hung out to dry. That isn’t fair for her. Then again, it is never fair for the victim.