Community Lawyering in the Juvenile Cellblock: Creative Uses of Legal Problem Solving to Reconcile Competing Narratives on Prosecutorial Abuse, Juvenile Criminality, and Public Safety
30 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2010
Date Written: February 10, 2010
This article describes a law school clinical effort to address the plight of pre-adjudicated juveniles, especially those experiencing their first brush with the juvenile justice system. Throughout the United States, every morning from Monday through Friday, thousands of pre-adjudicated children between the ages of ten and seventeen are paraded through a summary juvenile detention hearing on whether or not they should remain jailed until the charges made against them can be heard in a regular session of juvenile court. The overwhelming majority of these children have no understanding at all of what will happen at that hearing, or what to say, or why the first proceeding is so pivotal. Indeed, scholars assert that even a short stay in detention has serious, long-lasting, negative impact on youth.
Our law school clinical outreach is to all children in this predicament, but with particular attention to the increasingly disproportionate number of poor immigrant children and ethnic minority youth who have "holdable allegations of delinquency" pending against them, have been arrested and placed in a secure confinement facility for the first time, and now await trial.
Although scholarly critics of the history and direction of juvenile detention practice are not hard to find, practical solutions have proven difficult. This article explains how Community Lawyering, my clinical course at Brigham Young University Law School, is working to create alternatives to routine placement and extended stays of pre-adjudicated youth in secure confinement. This article also articulates our clinical strategy for gaining the support of the juvenile justice system and the larger community for comprehensive reform of detention practices and policies.
Legal problem solving in these situations involves shaping a young life and crafting a new story of healing and achievement. While legal counsel may be an expert on the law, no attorney acting alone can reach the goal of therapeutic justice without the help of the child, the family, and the community. For this reason Community Lawyering in the juvenile cellblock uses creative problem solving methods to vindicate constitutional safeguards while at the same time working with the larger community to restore the child to full membership in society.
Keywords: Community Lawyering, juvenile justice system, juvenile detention, clinical legal education, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University
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