"On the horizon . . . are tens of thousands of severely morally impoverished juvenile super-predators," author John Dilulio wrote. "Juveniles are doing homicidal violence in wolf packs."

In Arizona, ambitious young attorney Andrew Peyton Thomas (who at the time was also was penning his own screeds for the Standard) jumped on the anti-juvenile-crime bandwagon.

Working as a policy adviser to Arizona Governor Fife Symington III, Thomas helped draft the "Stop Juvenile Crime" initiative in 1995.

Pamphlets in support of the ballot proposition claimed judges too often went "soft" on violent kids, allowing them to stay in Juvenile Court instead of ordering them to adult court.

No matter that statistics provided by the Arizona Supreme Court at the time did not back those claims. The proposition sounded like the right thing to a majority of voters frightened by the horror stories.

The initiative won voter approval in 1996 and put far more control of juvenile transfers in the hands of prosecutors than ever before, and also made transfers in some of the most serious cases automatic.

The apparent assumption was that young offenders would be sentenced far more harshly in the adult system, and that the threat of this tougher punishment would result in lowered juvenile crime rates.

Arizona was not alone in this get-tough trend. More than 40 states passed similar legislation and initiatives in the 1990s.

But for reasons that social scientists continue to debate, something else was happening at exactly the same time as the new laws were kicking in.

Violent youth crime in Arizona and nationally started to shrink in 1994, according to National Institute of Justice statistics, and it has continued to decrease ever since.

That youth violence plummeted exactly when it was supposed to be exploding didn't sway "super-predator" acolytes such as Andy Thomas.

Thomas worked as a line prosecutor in Juvenile Court for a year or so before resigning to run for Maricopa County Attorney, winning election in 2004.

During that stretch, he saw what everyone else who works at Juvenile Court sees on a daily basis — parental maltreatment, substance abuse, mental-health issues, and educational shortcomings.

But Thomas has tended to frame many crimes committed by juveniles as a kind of moral defect inside the child. His real-life experiences at the Durango complex didn't move him, at least publicly, from his earlier uncompromising position on sending so many kids to adult court.

Surely, Juvenile Court is and always has been inappropriate for the most violent young criminals, of which 13-year-old Edgar Valles was one.

But recent scientific studies on the issue suggest that transferring kids willy-nilly is a bad idea.

"Juveniles prosecuted as adults re-offend more quickly and at rates equal to or higher than comparable youths retained in the justice system," Northeastern University criminal justice professor Donna Bishop wrote in a recent study.

Richard Redding, a professor of southern California's Chapman University School of Law and a leading expert on the issue tells New Times, "It may sound like a great idea to treat bunches of children as adults, and it obviously is appropriate in the most serious cases, but juvenile transfer is not a cure-all."

Judge Kemp says that "many, many of these kids I see are salvageable and just shouldn't be treated as adults or even locked up at Adobe Mountain, or wherever, until there's nothing else to do."

"Obviously, there are some very screwed-up kids, and some very dangerous ones. But it's amazing how some pull themselves out of overwhelmingly bad situations — poverty, bad parents, bad neighborhoods, drugs — and become law-abiding."

Kemp had not been on the job long enough at the time to see long-term successes, but he had heard about them: onetime delinquents who earned their high school diplomas and were attending college or learning a trade, kids who joined the military and were serving their nation, and kids who simply were not getting into any more trouble with the law.

It is not difficult to predict which juveniles have the better odds of turning their lives around. They are the kids with the support of parents or guardians and others who know what a crossroads is and will do whatever it takes to try to turn things around.

One such boy may be 14-year-old Patrick, who comes from a middle-class Phoenix home with two parents who are deeply devoted to their nine children.

Patrick never had been in trouble with the law until, over a two-day period, he repeatedly shot two horses in his neighborhood with a BB gun.

Authorities charged the boy with excessive cruelty to animals, a felony.

Judge Kemp told the boy at a hearing that, by admitting guilt, he would give up his right to remain silent, "because you're going to have to tell me what you did."

Thin, pale, and nervous, Patrick said he had been shooting soda cans in his backyard, and then, "I just shot the [neighbor's] horse."

It was not much of an explanation, but it sufficed as a legal admission.

The neighbor with the horses told the judge there had been two shootings, a day apart.

"One horse was penned and he couldn't escape," the woman said, her voice trembling with anger. "This kid shot him point-blank. I heard BBs ringing off the metal corral. The horses started to stampede. It was awful. He wantonly fired at living creatures."

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7 comments
friedland_law_center
friedland_law_center

Friedland Law Centeris a setup of trained mitigators work extensively with all major banks to reach resolutions on mortgage modifications and foreclosure matters.i strongly recommend to get their services.

friedland_law_center
friedland_law_center

Friedland Law Centeris a setup of trained mitigators work extensively with all major banks to reach resolutions on mortgage modifications and foreclosure matters.i strongly recommend to get their services.

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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