On friday, I recommended that a 15-year-old client of my serve out the rest of his sentence in an Illinois Youth Center.  That means “Prison for Kids”.  The paperwork for sending a child to an Illinois Youth Center, also know as Illinois Department of Corrections Facility for Youth,is surprisingly easy.  A PO makes two sets of copies of the important documents in the child’s Permanent Record–well, we call it a family folder, but you can think of it as a permanent record–and filling out a form.  That’s it.

This process simply assumes that all the possible services for the child in question have been exhausted.  It is a matter of fact, streamlined affair.  One would think that it would be significantly more complicated affair, especially considering how difficult it is to arrange for certain services.  Truth be told, it is far too simple.  Having recently recommended that a client of mine be sentenced to the Department of Corrections, I figured I’d share the proces with you.

More after the bump…

FIrst you have to file a document with the Circuit Court of Cook County known as a “Petition for Supplemental Relief.”  This is a document that informs the court of the alleged violations of probation, and requests that the court has a hearing on these allegations.  This petition has to cite the specific allegations as well as identify how these allegations are violations of probation.  In Cook County, one simply cannot file a petition saying, “The Minor isn’t doing so well.”  I have seen one example of a petition from Velusia County (that’d Daytona Beach) that stated something similar to that; it doesn’t seem like the way to handle a legal issue, but I digress.

The petition has to be specific.  In the case of my client, I  had to cite the days and times he missed his group and the days he ran away from home.  Now if my client ran away because it was not safe for him to be at home, I’m not sure I would have filed this petition.  My client just did not want to be home, nor did he want to participate in his treatment. 

All the people who are supposed to attend this hearing, the lawyers, the judge, the client and the client’s guardians, have to have 3 business days notice to attend the hearing.  On the day the hearing is held, the judge reads the allegations for the client (if he or she is there); the judge then asks when the next phase of the hearing is to be held.  Sometimes this hearing date is long–for instance, say the peition alleges that the minor is not in school.  A PO can ask for a 3 week date so the client can get enrolled in school and withdraw the petition.  Sometimes, as in the case of my client. the date is short.  In either case, the question of wether or not the minor is to be held in custody, or supervised by Probation, needs to be answered.  If the minor is dangerous, the PO can ask for a hold–where the client is held in the detention center.  The PO can also ask for detention alternatives such as house arrest, electronic monitoring (the ankle-bracelets) or a secure shelter.  All POs are required to use the least restrictive method to detain a client–only if the minor is a danger to himself or others in the community is the PO allowed to ask for a hold.  Typically, it is not appropriate to lock a client up in the detention center for excessive school absences; however the client may require electronic monitoring to ensure that he or she does not run away from their home.

In my client’s case, given his original charge and the allegations (missing group and out all hours of the night), he was immediately held in custody.

At the next hearing, evidence is to be provided on wether the client violated probation.  The threshold for proof has to be a prepondance of the evidence.  This means “more likely than not.”  The reasoning for this threshold is simple–given that the minor is already on probation, it is assumed that they are more likely to break the law as well as the rules of probation.  In any event, evidence still needs to be provided.  It cannot be, “He just isn’t doing well.”  This evidence has to fit the allegation.  So if the allegation is, “The minor is in violation of probation condition #1, in that he or she, broke a federal/state/city/municiple law, namely that the minor was arrested on 2/2/2006 for driving a motor vehicle without a license.”  then the PO has to prove that the minor was arrested–an arrest report is not good enough. The arresting officer has to testify.  In cases of curfew violations, parents or guardians have to testify and say, “Yes, my child was not home when they were supposed to be.” 

If the state can prove the allegations, the judge can sentence the client to 30 days in the detention center, extend the term of probation, order additional services or commit the client to the Department of Corrections until their 21 birthday.  The judge can also postpone the sentence and order a supplemental social investigation.  This a document that investigates the changes that the client has gone through, in terms of school attendance and behavior, drug use and home environment since being ordered on probation.  This document also lists all the interventions taken to address these changes that the minor has gone through.  Finally, given the changes and the interventions, the Supplemental also lists recommendations for the court.

The PO has to finish this document 3 days before the disposition hearing–the hearing where the judge orders what should happen next.  The State, the client’s lawyer (typically a public defender) and the PO present their ideas of what should occur.  The State does not always advocate locking a kid up.  The Client’s lawyer does not always disagree with the recommendations (unless those recommendations are commitment to DoC).  To be fair, the PO does not always know what he best course of action is.  It is up to the Judge to decide what to do.  Once it’s decided, the judge orders the changes she or he wants, and we move on to the next case.

In the case of my client, I recommended DoC.  I listed the hospitalizations, the disregard for his own safety and the safety of the community.  I indicated how the client’s mental illness was disruptive for the client, his family and the community; however, I also indicated that the minor did not take responsibility for his illness by taking his medication and just staying inside his house.  Given my client’s original charge, the state immediately agreed with my recommendation.  The public defenders office, however, vehemently argued that all of services my client was supposed to receive fell through.  In the moments before the hearing, I talked my recommendations over with the PD.  She told what her game plan was; she even asked me if I agreed with her.

The sad thing is, I did agree.  All of the services for this kid did fall through.  The hospitals put him on meds that take weekends to have any effect, and released him prematurely.  The SASS agencies did not complete all their visits to ensure that my client was taking his meds and addressing his concerns over side effects.  Chicago Public Schools, instead of evaluating his Special Education needs, expelled him.  The process of getting him into a day school just took too long.  The lack of any form of insurance for this kid ensured that he would not have any of his mental health issues addressed without wading through extremely complicated paperwork.  Her alternative, one I sincerely wanted to implement, was to attempt residential treatment.

The Judge wanted to hear if that was an option, as he was under the impression that there is a moratorium for residential treatment.  Technically, there is.  The reason for this moratorium is simple:  It is expensive, and Probation foots the bill; instead of firing POs or reducing other services, the chief judge (and the upper echelons of probation) chose to cut residential services.  Other solutions, such as in home treatment, are being tested for their efficacy.  In the case of my clients, however, there is an “agreement” between DoC and Probation.  This agreement states that any client from my department that is supposed to receive residential services will be sentenced to a specific DoC facility that is designed to address all the specific needs of the population I work with.

However, in rare cases, probation has been able to arrange traditional residential services.  For this to occur, we need to get special education money from CPS (as CPS is legally responsible for providing educational services for any minor under the age of 16, especially if they are labeled special education) and DCFS.  If this can occur, and the minor is going to be compliant with residential treatment, then we can use traditional residential facilities.  I’ve helped arrange this on two previous occasions, and I told this to the PD.  This is not some secret process; it is just exceptionally difficult to get money from either CPS or DCFS.  There is one additional source of funds–the Department of Human Services.  Their grant process, however, is extremely complex and time consuming.  However, it is an option probation does pursue.

When the Judge asked for my recommendation, I wanted to say, “Give me the money and the time, we can help this kid.”    The fact is, there is not enough time, or money, for my client.  There was no one around to make sure that he got to where he was supposed to go; other Probation Services were a set up for failure for him–he was likely to fight with other kids as well as staff–so they would be even less help.  It was too dangerous for him to live with his grandmother, given the neighborhood; furthermore, his grandmother was quite clear that she did not want my client living with her anymore–he was way to out of control.

The fact was, given all the resources I had, given this kid’s behavior, there was nothing more I could do that would not put him, or the community, in more danger.  I wanted to spend the resources on my client, to get him in treatment.  He did not want to do it…and the sad thing is, I had to realize that the money spent on him could have been spent on someone who actually wanted to get better.

So I told the judge, after I explained to him the process of how we could arrange Residential Services, it’d be better for my client to go to DoC.  The Judge agreed.

Chicago has one of the best juvenile justice systems in the world; but its resources are limited.  And sometimes, despite our best efforts, we fail.  There are no lessons to be learned, just an acknowledgment that sometimes we cannot change ever kid that walks into the court.

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