Leave the Black & Latino Boys in Jail

Friday November 20, 2009

I worked night arraignments & of course represented several teenage boys (all black & latino) for varying petty offenses. One particular case involved three 16 yr old boys at an orphanage. The allegations were that one boy was being held down while another boy punched him. This violence is sickening. What is even more sickening is that the staff at the orphanage did nothing to resolve the scuffle (or whatever this was – remember, these are mere accusations). The staff let their scuffle escalate and did nothing t stop it. Thankfully the boys ended their dispute on their own. The victim then called the police after the boys calmed down and went their separate ways. Not a single staff person lifted a finger.

I meet my client, realize he is only 16 & in the care of an orphanage, and so I contact the facility. When a teenager is removed from the care of their parent, they become wards of the State of New York. The facilities they live in act as “guardian” for them. If two teens living at the orphanage get into an altercation with each other, the facility is STILL responsible for finding and providing the teens housing. So a judge issuing a stay-away order against my client shouldn’t be problematic because in addition to his own efforts to stay away from the other teen, the facility is under a duty to house both of them.

Obviously an investigation was necessary for this case, but my primary concern was to get my client’s guardian in the courtroom before his case got called. I got a staff person on the phone and asked them who was coming to get my client. They said no one. Aghast, I asked again and reminded them that even IF the judge set bail (which I doubted since my client had never been arrested before), ultimately he would be walking out of jail, and he will return to the care of the facility. The staff person said: “We don’t want him to come back. Causing trouble and shit. Let him stay there. Don’t ask the judge to release him. He can stay right there.” To which I replied “NO, He cannot just STAY RIGHT THERE. He is 16. He might be an adult in criminal court, but I can’t imagine a Family court judge allowing you to abandon him to me.” This got us nowhere. The staff person then told me that it wasn’t his problem, he’s not a counselor and that these “aint [his] kids”. I was frustrated beyond belief. The staff person then hung up on me. I called back to get someone else. No one else answered the phone. My constant attempts to get in touch with a case worker or social worker at this facility have been futile. The sheer unprofessionalism, lack of care, lack of love and utter misanthropy I witnessed towards these teenage BOYS has broken my heart to pieces. I know I am a lawyer, but I just want to grab my beautiful brown client and hug him. Tell him that his parents were/are crazy for abandoning him. That he deserves better and can do better. That he doesn’t belong in Criminal court. That fighting is never the answer, but it shouldn’t be the path to Criminal court either. I want to tell him that in spite of it all, he can be and he IS LOVED. His case is on again this week. We shall see… Sent on the Sprint® Now Network from my BlackBerry®