How old were you when you ran away from
I was eleven. Everybody kept on saying,
"Well, you're too young, you're too young." And you know, when you're young,
you don't want to hear that. You don't want to hear that at all.
Why did this child run away? What's the problem?
Is it a problem in the home? Is it because he's running the streets? Is it
because he's becoming a street urchin? Is it because he's involved with the
wrong group? Or is it that something happened in his family?
I didn't get along with my folks. They got
a divorce, and I wanted to live with my father; and I couldn't because I
wasn't old enough to choose who I wanted to live with.
There has to be someone in authority who can
order certain kinds of service.
How long were you out in the
A couple of weeks, and then I got caught
and they sent me to Westfield Detention Center for three months.
I think what we're going to really do here is
I don't know. That's when all my troubles
started. I just got in trouble one right after another.
Good evening. I'm Michael Dukakis. If you're a
young person watching our program this evening and you're sixteen years of
age or under or perhaps eighteen and under, depending on the state in which
you live, if you get into trouble, the chances are good that you're going to
be involved with your state's juvenile court system. Tonight we're going to
look at what happens to some three hundred thousand children in this country
who go through the juvenile courts, but who have committed no crime; for
they have broken laws which do not apply to adults. They are truants,
runaways, so-called incorrigibles, unruly kids. The legal term for these
children is "status offenders." They are in trouble because of their
condition or their status. They are not delinquents; for delinquents are
young people who have broken the laws which apply to everybody—laws like
those that prevent stealing or laws designed to prevent physical assaults or
something worse. You may be surprised to learn, as we were, that violent
crime by juveniles which gets most of our public's attention these days
really is a tiny fraction of the cases that go through our juvenile court
system—perhaps 2 or 3 percent at most. And in virtually every state these
cases may be referred to adult courts, and in many, many cases they are. But
fully 40 percent of the juvenile court cases in this country today involve
status offenders. These 300,000 young people are sometimes detained right
along with juveniles and sometimes with adult offenders largely because
facilities are inadequate, and there are no places to put them. Our question
tonight is whether the handling of these cases by judges does more harm than
good so that we ought to take them out of the court system altogether or
whether juvenile courts are the best institutions to deal fairly with these
so-called status offenders. Should we end the courts' authority over
truants, runaways, and incorrigible children? Advocate Charles Nesson, a
professor at the Harvard Law School says, "Yes."
Tonight we're talking about kids who have run away
from home, who have stopped going to school, whose parents can't control
them. These are kids who have committed no crime. Our question is, "Should
the juvenile courts have the power to lock them up?" To tell you what
happens to these kids when they are locked up is Ken Wooden. For the last
six years, Mr. Wooden has crisscrossed our country looking at institutions
where these kids are kept and talking to the kids who are in them. My second
witness is Judge Luke Quinn, juvenile court judge from Flint, Michigan.
Judge Quinn will tell us why juvenile courts should spend their time dealing
with serious juvenile crime, not status offenders. It may sound
preposterous, but kids have been brought before juvenile courts as status
offenders for failing to bathe regularly, for refusing to do household
chores, for wanting to get married, even for attempting to commit suicide.
Runaways and truants glut our courts and fill our institutions at a time
when our real problem is the serious juvenile criminal. It's simply foolish
for the juvenile courts to be spending their resources dealing with status
offenders at a time when serious criminals, kids who rape and rob, have come
increasingly to regard the juvenile courts as a revolving door.
Thank you very much, Mr. Nesson. Advocate Margaret
Marshall, a distinguished Boston attorney says, "No."
Mr. Nesson is saying the courts should not be
permitted to help troubled children. We disagree. Tonight I will call as my
first witness T. George Silcott. Mr. Silcott is a social worker and
Executive Director of the Wiltwyck School in New York. As my second witness,
I'll call Judge John Milligan. Judge Milligan is with the Family Court in
Canton, Ohio. There are major problems with Mr. Nesson's proposals: he
rejects the need for final authority to deal with deeply troubled and
difficult children. He advocates doing away with the one area in our society
which can deal with those children, namely the courts' jurisdiction over
status offenders; and moreover, he offers no alternative. We would agree
with Mr. Nesson's proposals if all parents were capable of preventing their
children from damaging themselves, alcoholism, prostitution, and others. If
teachers could insure that children were in school at least most of the
time, if social services were available to help all children who needed
them, and if those social services were shown to have been effective and we
would agree with Mr. Nesson if children and parents who need help would
accept it and would ask for it—if all of those things were true, we would
agree we would not need the judge's authority over status offenders.
Thank you both. We'll be back to our cases in just
a minute. But again, let me offer a word of caution on a somewhat complex
and complicated subject. The legal distinction between status offenders and
delinquency is very precise. Delinquents have broken criminal laws; status
offenders have not. But it's obvious that in practice there are a lot of
gray areas, and that's one of the many problems with which we will be
wrestling this evening. And I'll do my best to make sure that our advocates
do that and do that fairly and well—as I'm sure they will. All right, let's
get on with our cases—Mr. Nesson, the floor is yours, and you have your
I call Mr. Ken Wooden.
Welcome to The Advocates, Mr. Wooden. Nice to have
you with us.
Mr. Wooden, what are "status offenders"?
Well, when I first heard the word, I didn't know.
And I remember raising the point to a prominent attorney in New Jersey, and
he said, "It's people that hang out with unworthy crowds and people that
drink too much and are having sex and out of control"; and I immediately
recognized the New Jersey State Legislature. I make that point to make a
point. If you turn eighteen years old or depending on the state where you're
living in, you're no longer a status offender if you're age sixteen,
seventeen, or eighteen. And a lot of people do those things. They are
non-criminal children that the courts do an overkill and an overcost.
Tell us, Mr. Wooden, what happens to status
offenders in the juvenile courts?
The juvenile courts, I'm sure in all due process, I
mean all consideration for their good thinking and all that, just send them
to institutions in many cases, where they are denied the most basic human
rights, where they are placed in circumstances that would make Mondale and
Carter cry out for human rights if it was in the Philippines or Argentina or
Can you give us examples?
They are placed in solitary confinement for a day
without any clothes, no toilet facilities; and that is common in practice in
institutions that I have visited—not just working on my book—but working
with 60 Minutes and working with NBC. They are denied due process from the
standpoint of having their letters censored; they can't make phone calls.
The physical punishment is incredible—from quack medicine to physical
punishment, from being beaten to the degree that it amounts aggravated
Mr. Wooden, are you talking about extremes, or are
you talking about something that is much more common?
No, I'm sure that those who would like to discredit
me would say they're isolated cases, but then there was Morales v. Truman in
Texas. The state of Texas would not permit NBC, Ed Newman, to go in and film
"This Child is Rated X." But the FBI went in because a federal judge by the
name of Justice, who lived up to his word, sent lawyers from the Justice
Department in and FBI agents and they documented an incredible case of
human abuse in a case that took three years, in a case where Texas cannot
deny what happened down there—where children were gassed in solitary
confinement, where kids had skin hanging and peeling from their face because
of constant gassing. The FBI found those gassing logs; where children were
placed in isolation because they were pregnant, and they would not take
abortion medications because they happened to be pregnant. And they were
forced to take abortion medications. It was proven in a Federal court of law
that there was a pattern of abuse within that state.
Mr. Wooden, why is the juvenile court power
structure so anxious to retain jurisdiction over status offenders?
Well, coming from New Jersey and being involved in
politics, I looked at it from a political point of view. And I think their
real core, or their deep desire is to maintain power; because from that
power flows incredible public monies, incredible patronage, incredible—an
empire that they build within their jurisdiction. It is, conservatively
speaking, a 15 billion dollar industry. And you take out 40 percent of the
personnel from that industry, you will seriously undermine the economic base
of juvenile justice in America.
Now tell us. Why is it necessary to reform the
system—the system that produces those abuses to remove jurisdiction over
status offenders from the juvenile courts?
Because I think that the courts do an overkill.
Judges are so busy. The caseloads are so heavy. They have no idea what's
going on in those institutions. And they also do what I call an "overcost."
In Pennsylvania we are now paying up to $40,000 per kid per year to place
them in public institutions; and as a taxpayer, I can't afford that. And I
know your viewers can't afford that kind of money.
Mr. Wooden, thank you very much.
Mr. Wooden, don't go away; I have a feeling we're
going to have a resolution going through the New Jersey Legislature tomorrow
morning as a result of this program. But there we are.
Well, they would need it.
Miss Marshall, you're on.
Mr. Wooden, you're not talking about abandoning
these children, are th--, are you? When you talk--
Of course not. I'm talking about having resources
that go in the punitive institutions, go into family counseling, in family
maintenance, and preserving the integrity of the family or what's left of
the family—blood relatives.
Okay, so you and I would agree that there are
children who need help and who need attention.
Well, some of the kids need help. A lot of them
need attention—I think two separate things here.
Okay, but there is a category of children who did
need help and attention. Mr. Wooden—
But if you divide those two things.
Okay, can you think of any circumstances where a
child should be told to do what he or she might not want to do; are there
Well, if a child is in danger, body harm; or if a
child could place itself in a position where they could get hurt—for
example, I did a program on child pornography in America. And it's
frightening what's happening to runaways; and if we had more runaway
shelters where a child could go to a safe haven and counselors can call the
parents and not the cops and not the judge, but the parents, and say to the
parents, "There's a need for some family counseling here," we would not
have, we would not have the child porns doing the business they're
Mr. Wooden, I think that some somewhat
out-of-date figures, there's something like 300,000 at a conservative
estimate, children involved in child pornography; so there are a group of
children out there who definitely need some kind of protection. Let me ask
I'll challenge your figures, but go ahead.
In answering my question, when you say that there
were some circumstances, who do you think should be in a position to order a
child to do something, for example, not to participate in child
My, my position from the work that I've done-
I think that the judges should use their power and
their prestige to order the agencies that are getting paid to do services to
do the services, to keep your overkill out of the lives of children and out
of families that are intimidated by the courts, and start intimidating the
schools to teach the truant who's reading at a third grade level to read; to
intimidate the Welfare Department to find suitable placements and not reform
schools and profit-making residential treatment centers. I think the focus
should be put on those agencies.
I would agree with you. The courts should do
that. But you're saying that the courts do already have a very valuable role
here. What happens to the child who does not accept help and does not listen
to first parents and then a counseling service, a halfway house, who
continues to run away -- those numbers are enormous, too, -- the children
who are, a thirteen-year-old girl who's an alcoholic, who runs away and runs
away and runs away?
I, I have never met that classical case that
juvenile court judges throw out about the chronic runaway. But I do know
children that are in good programs that I have seen can tell if it's a good
program within the first 24 hours that they're there. Because the kids will
tell them it's a good program, if it has substance like Providence House in
St. Louis, where the counselors are not Ph.D.'s; they're ex-convicts that
know the streets, and they can help those kids on the streets, where the
tutors teach them to read and write through creative poetry, not the club of
a judge sending them to reform school.
Mr. Wooden, Wooden, if the social agencies were
to take over the jurisdiction, which is to say they were the ones who were
to insist that children who need treatment go into treatment, what makes you
think that social welfare agencies, for example, would be any better than a
None, unless the judges would exercise their
judicial power and make them do their job.
So we come back to the question of really what
you're asking to do is to reform the judicial system, not to take the power
away from judges. You keep coming back and saying that ultimately it's the
judges who have to do it.
I want the judges to put their power on the
agencies and not the innocent children and not the bulk of status offenders
that are not chronic runaways, but are adolescents that are going through
adolescent adjustment; and because of the judicial system, the parents can
have, be, be irresponsible, of welfare mentality, and dump their kids on the
court knowing full well the courts will gladly take them because the money
and the power will bring the courts.
Isn't the real question, Mr. Wooden, that there
are not adequate facilities to treat these children? There simply aren't
Yes, and that is a disgrace because they have had
80 years to develop good facilities. They have had unlimited monies to
I understand that, but surely the issue here is
not whether or not the courts should give up their jurisdiction but whether
or not there should be a tremendous pressure to develop additional
facilities so that a judge could have available to him or her a variety of
treatment centers to which they could send children.
Mr. Wooden, this will have to be the last
All right. I'm having a real problem with your
questions because the courts have had a history of failure for 80 years, and
you're trying to put a Band-Aid on them in the name of some recent or new
reform. They have failed, and it's time to give the American children a
break and to protect their human rights.
Mr. Wooden, I think we'll introduce testimony
that their failure has been corrected and is on-going. Thank you very
We shall see. Don't go away, Mr. Wooden. We have a
few more questions from Mr. Nesson before you will be stepping down. Mr.
Mr. Wooden, when you're talking about reform of the
judicial system, if I understand you right, what you're saying is you want
the agencies to be the defendants in the juvenile court, not the kids.
Do you see that as a big difference?
With, well, let, let me just go one step further,
which is crucial. Not only do I want them to be the defendants, but I want
facilities that receive children from those agencies to be held accountable,
total financial accountability. We will not have reform in juvenile justice
until two things will happen. The doors of those institutions will be open
24 hours to the press and anyone else; and more important than those doors,
their financial books should be open. That will be the beginning of reform
because what is being missed here, and has been missed for 80 years, is the
economics behind incarcerating children, the incredible financing and the
power behind those children.
Mr. Wooden, in a jurisdiction such as Miss Marshall
talks about, where there are inadequate facilities, what does the judge do
with the status offender that comes before him?
Well, it's been my experience that the judge will
go with the most recent philosophy or a guy who will come in with a good
brochure of a good institution. There is very little understanding of
institutions and what they're really doing 24 hours a day. And to fill that
void, to give a little plug, we developed a manual for inspecting children's
institutions. We are being inundated by juvenile courts, agencies, in this
country and abroad, for that manual, because very few people know how to
look at an institution and if it's really doing a good job or not.
Thank you, Mr. Wooden.
Mr. Wooden, thank you very much for being with us
and for giving your testimony.
All right, let's turn now to Miss Marshall who has
her first witness.
I call T. George Silcott.
Welcome to The Advocates, Mr. Silcott. Nice to
have you with us.
It's good to be here.
Mr. Silcott, you're the Executive Director of the
Wiltwyck School in New York, aren't you?
What does the school do?
Well, we operate a residential treatment center
and three day centers in New York City, one in the South Bronx, Central
Harlem, and the third in Bedford Stuyvesant.
So, you're in some of the more troubled areas of
What kind of services do you provide?
Well the broad-range of services, including the
treatment center, which is a 24-hour facility, as well as services for
youngsters who are out of school, we call them alternate school program, we
provide counseling, we work with families, provide homemaking services, and
we provide mental health services, as well.
This, this term "status offenders" that we are
dealing with here, who are the children who are called status
Well, they're a broad range of youngsters. Unlike
my colleague, Mr. Wooden, there are a number of status offenders who are in
every sense of the word "delinquents," in that they have committed acts
similar to delinquent youngsters, but they've not been adjudicated, and that
is really the difference. It's whether a person's been adjudicated of a
crime, and we have a number of status offenders who are plea-bargained
delinquents, meaning that they have committed an act, which if they had been
successfully prosecuted, they might be wearing the label of "delinquent,"
but in effect they are really status offenders because of that. Also—
In running your programs, how important is it for
your school and for the outreach programs that you have, to have courts
Well, it's important for a number of families and
children who are unable to get services in their community.
What do you mean by that?
Well, a youngster, who, for example, is out of
school and on the streets and whose parents not able to provide the support,
the structure, or the care that's necessary. Very often we'll find that the
only resource available to turn to for help is the court. And very often,
the court will exercise some authority—that authority may mean telling the
youngster he should go to school or it may mean saying to a youngster or a
parent that this is the way you ought to try to work out the particular
problem, or in some instances it may mean the youngster gets placed out of
home in foster care or in an institution if there are needs that should be
You're telling me the children are told or forced
to do things. How effective are those programs? I mean, surely if an
adolescent who's rebelling already is told to go back to school by some
authority, how effective is that?
Well, it's, it's effective in that I think you
have to get a youngster's attention so that he understands that there's a
problem, and he and the person who's trying to help agree that the problem
exists. And it means holding a youngster long enough in place so that you
can have that kind of a conversation. And that's where sometimes the
structure of a court or some authority is very helpful.
But you've heard Mr. Wooden testify at some
length about the abuses and about the need for judges to perpetuate their
power and the vast sums of public money. What's your experience of those
Well, there are abuses. I think that you could say
that if you knew nothing about the system, because people are abusive from
time to time; so that I think that that's a foregone statement that, that we
can all agree on. But I think what one has to look at is where the
corrective measures need to be taken.
And where should they be taken?
They should be taken by making the services
appropriate, by correcting the abuses in the institution; the court does not
abuse children in institutions. The court does not run facilities, and I
think that that's where the correction needs to take place.
Mr. Silcott, what would be the effect if we in
fact removed the jurisdiction of status offenders from the courts? What's
your view on that?
Well, I think one of the first things that would
happen is that a number of youngsters who are now considered PINS would be
What are "PINS"? I'm sorry.
First, "PINS" in my state are "persons in need of
supervision." They're status offenders.
Oh-huh, and if they were removed from the
jurisdiction of the court, what would happen?
I think a number of them would be labeled
"delinquent," meaning that they would be processed through the court and
would be adjudicated as delinquents.
Is there any way that the social services could
fill that void if courts were removed from the jurisdiction?
Not really. I think that there, there are some
efforts now being made by agencies to provide more services and to try to
build more services into the community. But I think that one of the problems
is that even a welfare agency cannot mandate a mental health agency to
provide services the child may need; nor can a mental health agency mandate
to another agency to provide services. A court can't—
So you need, so you need some body which can
mandate the agency to provide the services.
You can write an order and say, "This youngster
deserves to have this service." I think Mr. Wooden agrees with that.
All right. Let's --. I'm sorry, Miss Marshall,
but I, I have to interrupt. Mr. Silcott, we're going to go to Mr. Nesson
now, who's going to have some questions for you.
Mr. Silcott, if I understand this field at all,
it's clear that virtually every critic of the system agrees that status
offenders should be decriminalized. Do you agree with that?
Yes, that we should all recognize that status
offenders are not people who have been guilty of committing crimes.
I agree that they've not been found guilty of
committing a crime.
Now, I, I would bet, I would solicit your view on
this, that very few people who tuned into this broadcast at the beginning of
the hour understood that status offenders were not criminals. What do you
I'm not sure what people who tuned in understood
the problem to be. But I think that the—
What do you think the kids, what do you think the
I think the kids understand that there are a lot
of kids who do things they're not supposed to do, even though they're not
adjudicated. And they know the difference between a kid who rips somebody
off and is arrested and prosecuted and a kid who is not. They know that the
same kid can go to jail cannot go to jail. They understand the commonality
between the two groups of kids.
Let's, let's take it slowly, Mr. Silcott.
And the difference that they see is that one kid
is arrested and prosecuted and another kid may not be.
Do I hear you saying, I think I do, "They're all
guilty; we've just adjudicated some of them"?
No, I'm not saying that at all. What --
Are they guilty, or aren't they?
What I'm saying is that I think kids understand
behavior that they have, what they experience. I think they also understand
when they need help with that behavior. The problem is that adults very
often become legalistic about serving youngsters.
You mean, you mean, legalistic in the sense that
somebody has to demonstrate to somebody that a kid has broken the law.
Doesn't sound too legalistic to me.
Well, legalistic to the extent that we go through
a series of what I consider charades at times, where one youngster gets
labeled a delinquent because there happens to be a very slick attorney on
one side and another youngster gets labeled a pin because the other lawyer
I see. But you know that they're all
No, the kids know what they are.
The kids know, and you know that they're all
No, I just know the behavior. I understand the
behavior that, that, that's exhibited.
The kid, the kid goes to juvenile court along with
delinquents? Am I right about that?
Which kids are you referring to now?
These status offenders, these kids who have
violated no law; or, but perhaps you think they have.
Well, the kids who are arrested for some offense,
who go --
Being a runaway --
Being a truant --
They go to court with the delinquents, don't
They know that the judge can send them away, don't
I think some of them do.
It looks and it feels like they're in a criminal
prosecution, doesn't it?
No, I think that what, what happens—
They know they're not delinquents.
Well, I think they also know that something
different is happening in the court. For example, a status offender does not
have a typical trial. It's usually a conference between the attorneys
involved and the judge.
Unlike a delinquent?
Unlike a delinquent where the --
But, they both, both may wind up at Wiltwyck, am I
right about that?
They both could, yes.
Do they, do you distinguish them at
No, because they're sometimes
The status offenders go around with yellow beanies
and the criminals go around with blue beanies?
All wear red beanies.
Mr. Silcott, 900 policemen were recently assigned
to the subways in New York City. If I understand it right, they were
assigned there because serious juvenile crime is a serious problem. Am I
right about that?
I don't know why they were assigned there, except
that the mayor has a lot of heat on him. But I don't know for sure who's
A lot of heat because a lot of old ladies are
getting knocked over by a lot of young kids on the subways, am I right about
Well, see, I don't happen to believe that that's
why they're there.
Oh, give us your analysis.
I think, I think they're there because it's
politically expedient to have them there.
You don't think that juvenile crime, I mean
serious crime, is a big problem in this country today?
Well, you know, in the 50's we had a tremendous
gang problem; and we didn't have 900 police added to the force to take care
of the gang problem, that were serious juvenile problems. It wasn't
Let me, let me bring it down to the point that
we're looking at right here. Doesn't it seem a little extraordinary to you
the figures quoted by our moderator here at the beginning, that when we have
a very serious national problem with juvenile crime, I mean serious crime,
that the courts are glutted with status offenders, and institutions are
glutted with status offenders? Doesn't that seem a little odd to you?
This will have to be the last answer to this
question, please, Mr. Silcott.
Well, I'm not sure I understand your question;
but let me try to explain what I think you're saying, and that is that there
are a number of youngsters who are before the court who are there because
someone, including themselves and probably their families, think they have a
problem. And they believe that the only place they can get help with their
problem is with the insistence of the court that some services be
Thank you, Mr. Silcott.
Don't go away, Miss Marshall is going to ask you
a few more questions. Miss Marshall, a question or two for Mr.
Mr. Silcott, the problem of delinquency—what's
going to happen to the delinquents if you, if you make a differentiation
between status offenders and juvenile delinquents and take status offenders
out of the juvenile courts? What's going to happen to the delinquency
Well, you see, I think there's already an
escalation of our treatment towards youngsters becoming much more
oppressive. I think we're likely to have that continue. For example, in my
institution, I can show you case records of youngsters who are delinquent
and PINS, and if you just read the material, the description of these
youngsters, you would not see any difference. We happen to take youngsters
who essentially come out of the most difficult neighborhoods in New York
City, and they have committed rather serious offenses, where they have a
label of "delinquency" or the label of "PINS," and you could not tell one
from the other.
I'm sorry, Miss Marshall. I have to interrupt to
say that our time has run out. I gather, once again for our audience,
P.I.N.S. is the term in New York for status offender?
Okay. Thank you, Mr. Silcott. For those who may
have joined us late, our question tonight is, "Should we end the court's
authority over truant, runaway, and incorrigible children?" Again, I want to
remind our audience that we are not talking here about children who are
criminals, who have broken the criminal law but children who, for a variety
of reasons, because of their status, because of their condition, because
they're deemed to be incorrigible or difficult to deal with, are deemed to
be status offenders and come within the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.
Advocate Charles Nesson, who has presented his first witness, Mr. Kenneth
Wooden, who is in favor of taking status offenders out of our juvenile court
system because he thinks it is an oppressant system and because he has found
evidence that many of these youngsters have been sent to institutions where
he believes they have been abused and neglected. On the other hand, advocate
Margaret Marshall has presented her first witness, Mr. George Silcott, who
runs a treatment program for both delinquents who have broken the law and
status offenders, who Mr. Silcott believes very strongly that without the
authority of a court and of a judge, it would be very difficult to provide
the tri --, the kind of treatment or the kind of care that he believes these
youngsters in many cases need. Let's now move on, and we're going to turn to
Miss Marshall, who is going to have a member of the judiciary as her first
witness. Miss Marshall --
I, I call Judge John Milligan.
Welcome to The Advocates, Judge Milligan. Nice to
have you with us.
Judge Milligan, what's the argument all about?
What's going on here?
Let me ask you a question. If I were to say to
you, "Should a child ever be brought to court for doing something for which
an adult could not be brought to court?" your answer would be, "Of course
not, that's incredible; that would be unfair." On the other hand, if I say
to you, "Should a child have the right to decide for himself ultimately
whether he will go to school, whether he will live at home or run away,
whether he, at any age, will drink or consume drugs, whether he will or will
not obey his parents," the answer of most thinking people would be, "Of
course not." Now, friend, you can't have it both ways.
Judge Milligan, we have, I believe, close to
five million adolescents in this country today who are problem drinkers. Are
those the kinds of children that you see in your courts?
Not very often, because most of the problem
drinking status offender issues can be resolved within the voluntary
community agencies that support the families. We very seldom see an
alcoholic problem directly. We will see it, of course, as it relates to
someone who's brought in for a delinquent or criminal act, and alcoholism is
a part of the problem of that youngster.
With children who come into your courtroom, what
kind of options do you have available, in terms of treatment for them?
The juvenile justice system has a number of
options available when a youngster finally gets to the point where the
support system of the family has broken down, where the surrounding support
system of the schools and social agencies, welfare departments, have broken
down, and none of those work and this youngster continues to run away or
continues not to go to school—at that point, then, the court becomes
involved. And frankly, Mr. Wooden, that's the only time they should become
involved—when all else has failed. And in exercising the options that are
available to the court, the court should use the least restrictive option
that is consistent with the treatment needs of that youngster.
And you should keep that in mind.
Let, let me say, you've heard Mr. Wooden talk
about the abuses, or it seems as if he's saying judges want to lock up
children. Why do you have such confidence in the system?
Given 80 years—
I have confidence for one thing, based upon the
changes that have taken place in the last few years in terms of the enormous
increase in the processes of due processes that have been incorporated into
the procedures of the court. But—
Mr. Wooden says that that's a flash in the pan,
Well, I don't think it's a flash in the pan when
I wake up in the morning, go to court and look out and see a status
offender, an habitual runaway girl, who is there with her lawyer, the
parents are there with their lawyer, the social agency that's been working
unsuccessfully is there, the prosecutor is there; and it seems to me that in
that milieu, my responsibility is within the confines of due process, which
means confronting witnesses, which means burden of proof, within all of
those things to conclude fairly what the solution to the problem is; and
then we have a number of ranges of options that are available.
What would be the consequences if you, if you
were not available in that position, where the social agency had failed, for
I think there are two options. One would be that
if there is a vacuum in authority, and children must have structure and
authority, if there's a vacuum ultimately, will be filled by
somebody—probably a welfare department. And if welfare departments, quite
candidly, are given ultimate authority to make decisions coercively or
against the will of both parents and children, we're in trouble, in terms of
due process and fair treatment.
Do you like ha—
I'm sorry, Miss Marshall, I have to interrupt.
We're going to be back to you for a few more questions, but it's now Mr.
Nesson's turn to ask some questions of you, Judge.
Judge, let me see if I can get your position
You, you, you want the power to lock these kids
up, and you say it's your last resort; but that's what your position is—you
want the power at the end of that road to lock the kid up.
I would say with, with an habitual runaway who
has continued to run away and who has not responded voluntary--, voluntarily
to the options that are available, you see, I would much prefer that she be
in a treatment center, like a little girl who told to me last week, when I
asked her this question, knowing I was coming here, I said, "What would have
happened to you," she had just been brought back from Florida—
Judge, I think the answer to my question—
"What would happen to you if we hadn't
—if I hear it right, is, "Yes." Am I not
Isn't the answer to my question just plain "Yes"?
When you get to the end of the road after all that nice voluntary service,
if the kid won't play your game—
—you want to lock that kid up.
I didn't write the law that says that youngsters
stay at home and go to school.
I didn't write that law; society wrote that
And you enforce it by sending them to jail if they
won't do it?
No, I don't send anybody to jail, and a judge
who does is in bad trouble, particularly in the face of the advocacy that's
available now on behalf of children. I'm not—
All right, now, Judge, take it a little slow with
me, all right? Let's just take it a little slow.
You're presenting us a picture in which if you've
got a nice voluntary program and you say to the kid, "You go in that
program. If you don't I'm going to do something bad to you," maybe you, you
bridle that I'm going to lock him up, but I think that's what I hear you
saying, "you go in that program, or else." You're hoping that kid goes to
that program, that he gets a good treatment in that program, and that
everything comes out rosy, right?
And most of them do, as a matter of fact. And
let me tell you that this girl, when she came back last week, when I asked
her this question, said to me, I asked her, "What would have happened if we
hadn't done what we did?" And her answer was, "I would either be dead, a
junkie, or would be in jail for the commission of a crime." Now, she told me
that. I didn't plant it on her.
All right. Now we've speeded up again; let's slow
back down a little bit, Judge.
Mr. Wooden here has traveled the country. He's seen
institutions just recently in many states of this country, institutions in
which status offenders are kept and abused. Do you think that doesn't
Do you think things have changed in the last five
years? Is that your argument?
Things are much better?
They've changed enormously, and they continue to
change with the initiatives that are being taken, for one thing, by the
Federal government. And for another thing, by advocates like Mr.
When you say the Federal government, the Federal
government, you, you're really referring to the Federal law that was passed
in 1974 that created incentives for the creation of these programs?
—talking about funding programs that have been
initiated, yes, by the Federal government.
Now, if I hear you right, you're saying to me that
because we've got good programs, it makes sense for you to have the coercive
power to put kids into them.
I, yes. I'm saying that ultimately youngsters
who will not voluntarily be involved in those issues that we believe are
necessary for maturation of youth, we must ultimately use coercion or write
But in states where we don't have good programs,
Judge, and you will recognize that they exist, won't you?
In fact, let's talk a little bit about those
programs. Those programs have come into existence because of Federal money,
on large part. Have you heard of Proposition 13, Judge?
Have you kept your eye on what's happening to the
funding levels under the Federal bill?
Yes, I was out—
Isn't it the fact, Judge, that it is very likely
that in the near future that direction with expanding programs is in fact
going to go the other way?
I think it might.
And you're going to be left with a very short
field to backstop. You're going to be left with just a little bit to say,
"Kid, go in that program. If you don't like it, whoop—it's real quick; I've
got to put you away."
Well, I think we, I think what we'll continue to
develop voluntary programs that are available for youngsters. There's no
question the whole volunteer movement today in, in Washington state, there's
a tremendous program for advocates for youth who are, become, helpful in a
One last question, Judge. Does it bother you, are
you aware, and does it bother you to know that the major opposition for that
Federal act and those reforms came from the National Council of Juvenile
A very brief answer, your Honor.
I can't answer that briefly. I'm sorry, I simply
can't do it in all conscience.
Well, we've got to go back to Miss Marshall,
who's going to ask you another question or two. She might want to ask you
that one or some others, I don't know.
Judge Milligan, let me raise something with you.
Have there been situations where an expellment has been, had removing status
offenders from the jurisdiction of courts?
Well, Manitoba, Canada, tried it.
And what happened?
The vacuum was filled by the Welfare Department,
and within six months, the advocates of removing from juvenile court
jurisdiction came back and said, "We've made a terrible mistake, because we
want to deal with due process." And the way you get due process is within
the judicial system.
Judge Milligan, if I understand Mr. Nesson
correctly, what he's saying is that the Federal government is going to be
cutting back on finances, and that's going to leave you absolutely
hamstrung, and you won't be able to do anything. And all you'll do is lock
up these kids again. Is that what you're going to do?
I certainly hope not.
And what will you be doing?
What I'm doing in two days is going to
Washington and tell them they better reinstate the funds, and they should
invert the amount of money that L.E.A.A. is paying for youth. Of all the
money of the L.E.A.A. program, only 19 percent goes for youth programs. It
ought to be the other way around.
Judge Milligan, thank you very much for being
Thank you both. Miss Marshall, not to be undone
or outdone, Mr. Nesson's got a judge of his own that he's about to present
to us. Mr. Nesson—
Judge Luke Quinn, please.
Welcome to The Advocates, Judge Quinn. Nice to
have you with us.
Thank you very much, sir.
Judge Quinn, how long have you been a juvenile
Eight and a half years.
You've seen a lot of kids in that time?
Tell me, why are juvenile judges so opposed to
relinquishing jurisdiction over status offenders?
Well, I can only speculate about the reasons. I
think there are many. Some judges feel that incarceration of the so-called
"status offender" is beneficial. I think one judge I know termed it
"therapeutic." One judge I read about put a young man in jail; he was there
27 days, and it was claimed that his reading level went up two grades.
Somebody made the comment that if that judge had kept him six months, he'd
now be teaching school. I suppose there are other reasons -- empire building
-- that's what I think. I also think there are a lot of judges who are very
sincere in their belief that they are helping children. I happen to think
they are mistaken in that belief.
Judge, it's a delicate point, and I don't really
mean to impugn anyone. But let me just explore a little bit this problem of
empire building. What do you mean by it? What does it mean to a juvenile
judge to have what we're calling an empire?
Well, see, when we're talking about juvenile court
jurisdiction over status offenders, we're not talking about the traditional
fact-finding role of the court. The court doesn't decide whether this kid is
truant or not. That's sort of a foregone conclusion. I've never had a trial
involving a status offender. I've had thousands of cases before me and what
the judge is actually doing is deciding on whether the child should be
treated and if so, what kind of treatment the child should receive; and the
odds are in most states the judge will run the facility to which the child
is sent. That's what I mean by empire building. You develop large staffs and
elaborate facilities. And a lot of judges I know are going to fight to the
bitter end before they will surrender those facilities for anybody else to
Does it mean jobs, judge?
Of course it does.
Does it mean workers at election time?
Absolutely. Absolutely. But it won't mean jobs lost
because those facilities, facilities simply should be turned over to
somebody else who, in my opinion, would do the job better of working with
what everybody I think agrees, are very troubled youngsters, not
Judge, we've heard that some kids who run away
from or won't go to school need compulsion. They need authority. Do you
agree with that?
You're misspelling that word. It's compassion—is
what they need. It's compassion. They don't need a judge. They need
somebody, they, with an arm around them. They need a wise counseling friend.
Now, some burglars, some thieves, also don't go to school. But, if we're
confusing burglars and thieves with the troubled children that I see, then
we've got a problem.
What would you say the real problem is that's
faced by the juvenile court?
Juvenile crime. That's the problem that's taken
over this country; you know, that half of all serious crimes are now
committed by juvenile delinquents. And we can't begin to effectively cope
with serious juvenile crime in this country.
Judge, now, we've seen that there's a basic
confusion in the way the system runs between status offenders who are not
criminals and delinquents who are. Does it make any difference to anybody
that we have that confusion?
Well, it certainly does to the kids. But I know a
lot of children who are pure status offenders who wind up in jail. We have
judges in the state of Michigan who are putting those kids in jail. Only 18
of the 83 counties in Michigan have juvenile detention facilities.
Therefore, when, kid runs away from home, there's a good chance that he will
wind up in jail in the state of Michigan. And here, you know, I just
happened to bring along—here I have—here's a little boy who ran from New
York— Long Island, New York. They were going to take his dog away, and he
ran from home. They picked him up down Gary, Indiana. Surely, we wouldn't
put that child, Mr. Silcott, in your institution—a little twelve-year-old
boy. Here's a little ten-year-old boy who was running away from home,
looking for his real parents. Surely, we wouldn't put that child in an
institution with burglars, with car thieves. Surely, we wouldn't do
Gentlemen, I have to interrupt at this
Thank you very much, Judge.
Miss Marshall, some questions for Judge
Judge Quinn, I take it that you're a juvenile
And I take it you're not the only compassionate
juvenile court judge.
Oh, absolutely not, there are-
—There are many of them.
And in fact there are courts that can handle
children with compassion and sensitivity.
Oh, I think so, yes.
I have a problem. I hear you saying first that
judges can't be trusted to mete out the least aseptic means or that they
will not be compassionate. How do you respond to Mr. Wooden, who's saying
that he wants judges to order social agencies to provide greater facilities?
Why would a judge who has a power base in some other facility be in the
position to do that?
Well, I think the only time a judge should be
involved is if there's a contest—let's say that a social agency is dealing
with a child, and the parents of that child or an advocate for a child,
which I think there should be in every state in the Union, would feel that
this agency is not fulfilling its obligation to the child, then of course
they would have access to the courts. And they would have that access right
now. You don't have to pass any law.
Of course. What I want to ask you is—here's a
specific case. You have talked with, I think the telling examples of
children who run away because they have had a dog taken away. I don't think
those are the kinds of children we're talking about in great numbers. Let me
put the following situation to you. I have a thirteen-year-old alcoholic—the
same one that I did to Mr. Wooden—who has been to volunteer agencies, whose
parents love and enjoy her; you have talked about a compassionate friend to
put an arm around the child. Assume that the child doesn't want a
compassionate arm. What are you going to propose we do?
Well, I think that the parent ought to do with that
child the same thing that we do for a child who were mentally ill. I think
that there should be appropriate treating institutions that deal with that
child and the parents should have the ability to take their child there
directly. Just like they do with mental health.
Assume that the parents, assume that the parents
can't do that, Judge. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of
parents who come into court, in fact, most of the cases, status offenders
are brought to the courts by parents saying, "we can't do anything with our
child. We love her; we can't do anything with her." And you're saying that
parents should be able to take her to the treatment facility.
That's absolutely correct.
And if the parent can't do that, we just don't
do anything; we don't assist the parent?
Well, I don't know what, if, if the parents can't
do it, I don't know how in the world they expect the court to do it. I
certainly can't correct that child's behavior.
Of course, I would submit to you, Judge, that
frequently because of the authority of the court, the court can step in and
fill an authoritative vacuum. But let us agree to differ on that. Let me ask
you another question. How do you respond, well, let me backtrack, do you
think the work that Mr. Silcott is doing is valuable?
Really valuable to the children that he
But I don't think he ought to have those status
offenders up there, and if he's presuming that children are, are guilty of
something they haven't been adjudicated to, I think he ought to re-examine
his attitude, but I think basically institutions such as—
No, he s—, I don't think he was presuming he was
guilty, I don't think he was presuming they were guilty. I think he was
reading their records. But let me ask you this. If he's doing valuable work
and he says he needs a court to assist him, how do you respond to him?
Well, it could be that he's wrong. Has he ever
tried it? Has he ever tried it—working with children who were not sent there
by a court? How does he know?
I believe that Mr. Silcott is nodding his head,
and he's saying, "Yes," he has tried it. Let me move off that area into
another that troubles me a great deal. Do you believe in compulsory
Oh yes, yes. I think parents have an obligation to
provide an education for their children, just as they do food, clothing,
And the children who don't go to school and the
parents can't force them to go to school?
I have not really run into many situations like
that, to tell you the honest truth.
Well, you must be one of the very few juvenile
judges, with all due respects, Judge, because there are hundreds of
thousands of children who are truants and whose parents want them to go to
school and who can't get them to go to school. They come into every other
juvenile courtroom; I don't understand why they're not coming into
Well, I think that what do not, what you're doing,
is they're not placing the responsibility where it belongs. They are not
placing the responsibility on the parents. The law is really, the compulsory
education law is directed toward the parents, and it's a misdemeanor in the
state of Michigan for a parent not to send their child to school. I've had
case after case where it was obvious that the reason the child wasn't in
school was because the parents weren't sending that school. But I've never
seen a parent prosecuted, never. They always focus on the child because it's
a lot easier to kick that little child around than it is that parent.
Judge Quinn, you're talking about the
This will have to be a very short question and a
very short answer.
What about those children who are charged with
committing a crime and have their, their plea bargaining reduced to status
offenders? What do you think would happen—?
—if the status offenders were removed from the
jurisdiction of the courts?
I think it's deplorable that a burglar is treated
as a status offender. I think that's part of the problem. We put status
offenders and burglars in the same bag, and that's wrong.
Then more children would get locked up.
I'm sorry, Miss Marshall, I have to interrupt.
Mr. Nesson, a question or two for Judge Quinn, please.
Judge, I keep coming back to this business of who
are we talking about, and I just want to define it a little bit further. If
you have a child who's being abused by his parents, beaten up by his mother
or his father, are we saying that we've got to eliminate the juvenile court
jurisdiction for that child?
No, sir, and I'm saying that most of the kids that
I get are running from abusive parents. They're running from bad parents.
They are not delinquent kids. They are the smartest member of the family
because they get out of that sick situation.
I'm sorry, gentlemen. I'm sorry, our time has run
out. Judge Quinn, thank you very much for being with us, again. Now's the
time in our debate when we go to closing arguments. Mr. Nesson, you have one
Courts are places for dealing with criminals, and
that's how we should use them. Status offenders are wasting almost one half
of the time that our courts should be spending on serious juvenile crime.
The time that our courts now give to status offenders harms many of those
who they treat as status offenders. They're mixed in with delinquents.
They're housed with delinquents. They are in many ways treated as
delinquents. They're bored in institutions. They're brutalized in
institutions. They are schooled in the ways of crime.
In the meantime, the major problem of juvenile crime
increases. Our society cries out for juvenile courts to spend their time on
the serious criminal offender and with kids who have committed no violation
of law, not to adjudicate them as if they were criminals. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Nesson. Miss Marshall, you, too,
have one minute.
I've listened to four very eloquent witnesses
tonight, and I've heard that they have one thing in common. Their goal is to
help troubled, difficult children. Children who find no solace with their
parents, their schools, their peers, and children who have left alone do
great damage to themselves and to others. All four witnesses have shared
Mr. Nesson's response is to say, "we've tried the courts;
they've failed, throw it away, throw up our hands; let's try something
else." He, incidentally, doesn't say exactly what he's going to have in
their place. I believe he's wrong. Courts can do good. They have done good
in the past, and they have been successful. They are not only institutions
to, for which criminals are brought. Our court system simply doesn't
function that way, and we are making a great mistake saying that it does.
Now is not the time to turn our backs on the courts. It is the time to use
our energies to demand additional treatment facilities for children. That is
what they need. Children who are status offenders desperately need help.
They need the help of Judge Milligan; they need the help of Judge Quinn. We
cannot afford to take that help away from them now.
Thank you both very much. Now's the time when we
turn to our viewing audience and ask you to get involved in our program and
in this very important question this evening. What do you think? And we're
particularly interested in hearing from those of you who are under the age
of eighteen, as well as those of you who are a little older. How do you feel
about it? Should we end the courts' authority over truant, runaway, and
incorrigible children? Send us your "Yes" or "No" vote with your comments on
a postcard to The Advocates, Box 1979, Boston, Massachusetts 02134.
On February 25, The Advocates debated the question,
"Should your state require a minimum competency test for high school
graduates?" Our audience responded this way: 86 percent said "Yes," 14
percent said "No." One viewer in favor of competency testing said, "Unless
students are made aware that they will be required to pass a state test for
graduation, the present problems will continue to exist, if not worsen."
Another viewer against competency tests wrote, "All people do not grow
intellectually at the same rate, and so labeling is unfair and misleading.
Do not label a person a failure at the age of seventeen."
On March 4 The Advocates debated the question, "Should the
United States move to break the price-setting power of OPEC?" And our
audience responded this way: 70 percent said "Yes" and 30 percent said "No."
One viewer in favor of breaking the cartel wrote, "Our economy is being
systematically destroyed, while a small group of people get very wealthy."
Another viewer against breaking the OPEC cartel said, "Such arrogance will
reap the ridicule that it deserves."
We hope that all of you will join us again next week for
another exciting debate on The Advocates. Our thanks to Miss Marshall, to
Mr. Nesson, to a very able and distinguished group of witnesses, and to the
Kennedy School of Government here at Harvard University, our host. Thank you
all, and good night.