Juvenile delinquency courts usually get mentioned in the media only after a young menace hurts or kills someone.

Then, conservative politicians like County Attorney Thomas and like-minded pundits usually thank God out loud that Arizona law does not allow judges to go "soft" on alleged perpetrators anymore.

However, the reality of life in juvenile delinquency court — at least in Judge Kemp's court — had nothing to do with "soft."

New Times can make the following observations after having sat in the judge's courtroom for months of delinquency hearings:

• Engaged judges like Kemp seem better equipped than anyone, prosecutors and lawmakers included, to decide how and in which court to adjudicate minors charged with crimes.

• Juvenile judges generally are anything but soft on juveniles who commit crimes.

• What violent youngsters such as Valles had in common with most juveniles in Kemp's court was: They all lacked adult supervision.

That last point goes to the heart of this story.

Most of the kids who ended up on Mike Kemp's delinquency radar screen are pretty much out in the world on their own.

Lacking education, living in poverty, into illegal drugs, with scant job prospects, juveniles who break the law should come as no surprise to the public. The real surprise is that they don't do it more often.

Asked at the end of one long day in court to sum up his greatest frustration, Kemp uttered just one word: "Parents."

Anyone who spends time at Juvenile Court cannot help but see how many parents are disconnected from their children's lives.

The parents who did show up in court sometimes seemed more oblivious to the gravity of the situation than the juveniles themselves.

"This is their chance to impress me," the judge said of parents, "and they're chomping on gum and not even pretending to show respect. It's an indication about how many of these parents' lives are."

The judge wasn't suggesting that all parents are to blame for the legal fixes their progeny had gotten into. Some had lost control of their children for reasons that cannot be explained away by simply calling them "bad" caretakers.

For example, not every mother has a family member or someone else to fall back on in times of trouble (though it is almost cliché how many grandmothers try to come to the rescue).

But as Kemp told New Times, "There are a lot of parents who can't even pull it together to get here on time for a court hearing for their child. That should tell you all you need to know.

"Their kid is out there doing drugs — meth is still big — hanging out, maybe going to school when they feel like it, doing crimes here and there. And then Mom comes in here and begs me not to punish her kid, to have all the answers. I just don't."

And no wonder.

In the 2008 edition of KIDS COUNT, Arizona rated a lowly 39th in a survey that considers the economic, social, educational, and physical wellbeing of children across the nation.

The study by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation is worth noting because it ties in so closely with the daily events at Juvenile Court.

In part, the study considers the percentage of children living with parents who do not have full-time year-round employment; of teens who are high school dropouts; of teens not attending school and not working; of children living in poverty; of children living in a one-parent family.

Arizona dropped three notches from its 2007 rating.

That seems to refute the claims of departing Governor Janet Napolitano and her administration that the wellbeing of Arizona's children improved dramatically on her watch.

Still, violent crimes committed by juveniles have been on the decline in Maricopa County and nationwide since 1994. Yet overall business at Juvenile Court remains brisk.

Maricopa County statistics show that 24,390 children under the age of 18 were "referred" to Juvenile Court for prosecution over a yearlong stretch that ended June 30, 2008.

About half of those referrals involved lesser infractions such shoplifting, truancy, running away, curfew, alcohol or marijuana possession, and disorderly conduct.

A more-disturbing number is the 5,632 youths ordered incarcerated — "detained" is the daintier official term — by judges in a county juvenile facility during that year. About 40 percent of these kids committed crimes against people and property.

Some of these juveniles — 551 — were sent to the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.


A mother plays with her young niece's hair as she awaits her daughter's delinquency hearing in the hall outside Judge Kemp's courtroom.

Dressed in plaid shorts and a sky-blue spandex top, the woman is chewing gum hard and sweating profusely.

Explaining the perspiration, she says she's just gotten off a city bus and practically ran to court on this already-sweltering summer morning.

This single mom knows the drill.

Her only child has been incarcerated at the nearby detention facility for a few weeks and has been in and out of Juvenile Court since she was 9.

But Malika's case will have to wait, as it is number nine on Kemp's calendar.

Inside the courtroom, 16-year-old Daniel admits his guilt in a pot-possession case.

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7 comments
friedland_law_center
friedland_law_center

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friedland_law_center

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mara siegel
mara siegel

Paul,

Just reread your article.

The article made me angry( as I am on a daly basis in Juv Ct) that St John's Christian R had to plead guilty yesterday to avoid Andy & Az Draconian Juvie transfer mandates.

A Hobson's choice for a 9 yr incompetent child to make.

I have been clandestinely advising behind as I am aMaricopa County Juv Public Defender, prohibited fr doing Pro Bono work o/side of the office. Call me if interested in case & its national ramifications

Mara Siegel602 320-7691

mara siegel
mara siegel

Paul,

Just reread your article.

The article made me angry( as I am on a daly basis in Juv Ct) that St John's Christian R had to plead guilty yesterday to avoid Andy & Az Draconian Juvie transfer mandates.

A Hobson's choice for a 9 yr incompetent child to make.

I have been clandestinely advising behind as I am aMaricopa County Juv Public Defender, prohibited fr doing Pro Bono work o/side of the office. Call me if interested in case & its national ramifications

Mara Siegel602 320-7691

Juvenile's Rights
Juvenile's Rights

This should give the public an idea of what is going on in the juvenile and family courts:

Editorial: Judges SentencedKids for cash

The setting is Pennsylvania coal country, but it's a story right out of Dickens' grim 19th-century landscape: Two of Luzerne County's most senior judges on Monday were accused of sending children to jail in return for kickbacks.

The judges, Luzerne County President Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., 58, and his predecessor, Senior Judge Michael T. Conahan, 56, will serve seven years in jail under a plea agreement.

They're alleged to have pocketed $2.6 million in payments from juvenile detention center operators.

When a federal judge reviews their plea, though, the question ought to be whether the punishment is adequate - along with the judges being bounced from the bench, disbarred, and losing their pensions.

If the allegations are true, Ciavarella and Conahan were involved in a disgraceful cabal far worse than one that merely lined their pockets.First, the judges helped the detention centers land a county contract worth $58 million. Then their alleged scheme was to guarantee the operators a steady income by detaining juveniles, often on petty stuff.Many of the kids were railroaded, according to allegations lodged with the state Supreme Court last year by the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, an advocacy group.

In asking the court to intervene in April, the law center cited hundreds of examples where teens accused of minor mischief were pressured to waive their right to lawyers, and then shipped to a detention center.One teen was given a 90-day sentence for having parodied a school administrator online. Such unwarranted detentions left "both children and parents feeling bewildered, violated and traumatized," center lawyers said.

"Very few people would stand up" to the Luzerne judges, according to the law center's executive director, Robert G. Schwartz.Fortunately, Juvenile Law Center was willing to do so, along with backing from state Attorney General Tom Corbett's office and the state Department of Public Welfare.

The blind justices on the state's high court, though, took a pass. Only last month, they offered no explanation in declining to take up the law center's request that the court step up.

Now, the state Supreme Court should revisit the issue, since the scope of corruption alleged at the Luzerne County Courthouse in Wilkes-Barre could further undermine confidence in the courts statewide.Authorities need to redress running roughshod over juveniles' rights - a process also likely to bring damage suits. While the local district attorney pledges to "do our best to right the situation," this calls for an independent, outside review.

The two judges' downfall may have rooted out the worst perpetrators of this evil scheme, but the abuse of power alleged in Luzerne County is so startling that it should send shock waves for reform around the state court system.

Andrew
Andrew

Just read the story; throughout I wondered "what did my parents do that these 'parents' didn't". I am not a parent myself, but it is obvious that my parents parented. They encouraged me in my education, went to PTA meetings and other such parent-teacher meetings, helped me schoolwork, got me educational material no matter what the cost (including a computer system, back in 1984, which led to me being a software developer and robotics enthusiast today). My dad has since passed away, and my wife and I take care of mother at our home now (dementia is a helluva thing). Parents need to take care of their kids, so that one day, hopefully, the kids can take care of their parents.

 
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