Monday, November 18, 2013

Juvenile Justice System Breakdown

I was struck by the sad irony that on the same day I found myself reviewing a DOJ bulletin from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention on how to ensure these "facilities are safe and that the youth in custody receive the necessary treatment and services[,] the very disturbing decision from the Tenth Circuit in Blackmon v. Sutton, et al. was returned.  See USDOJ, Office of Justice Programs, OJJDP, September 2013, p. 1. 

We would all like to think our incarcerated clientele, and especially our youth, whether client or not, are treated well.  Having heard the stories from our clients over the years of abuses that occur within detention facilities, we certainly have reason to be sceptical.  The lack of training, oversight and discipline within our correctional system has been known, sometimes witnessed, and will likely continue in an environment of overcrowding and shrinking budgets.  So, for all those private counsel who are moved to act in representing those whose voice is rarely heard in the hallowed halls of power, the Blackmon decision should give you as much hope, as it does repulsion.  

It has always been the belief by most in society that it is the inmates themselves that make the correctional environment so inhumane, and that it is their doing that causes them to come out worse than when they went in.  I don't doubt that that is partly true.  However, as this opinion reflects, albeit at the pretrial stage of denying the civil defendants' summary judgment motion, our public servants overseeing this system would appear to also carry some of the blame.  There is no doubt that this troubled and diminutive (4' 11", 96 pound) eleven-year old came out far worse than when he went into the juvenile justice system here in Wichita, Kansas.  Although the jury has not yet spoken in this case, if the matter isn't settled out of court, this case should shine a bright and embarrassing light on the professionals within our juvenile justice system that allowed this "correctional" behavior to fester.  Like any wound, sometime exposure to the open air is the only way it will heal.  Let's hope this opinion gets a good airing.           

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