Family Court and Juvenile Justice in D.C.-DC Public Safety Radio

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Radio Program available at http://media.csosa.gov/podcast/audio/2013/06/family-court-and-juvenile-justice-in-d-c-dc-public-safety-radio/

[Audio Begins]

Len Sipes: From the nation’s capital, this is DC Public Safety. I’m your host, Leonard Sipes. Ladies and gentlemen, the show today is on Family Court and Young Offenders. We have two guests with us today. Judge Zoe Bush, she is he Presiding Judge of the Family Court of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and we have Terri Odom. She is the Director of the Family Court Social Services Division – to talk about the courts’ involvement in terms of young offenders – how they approach them, how they deal with them, what the outcome is, what the challenges are. – And to Judge Bush and to Terri Odom, welcome to DC Public Safety.

Judge Zoe Bush: Thank you.

Terri Odom: Thank you so much for having us.

Len Sipes: Well, this is interesting because in the District of Columbia, like so many jurisdictions throughout the country, you have dual jurisdictions over younger people who are caught up in the criminal justice system the Superior Court of the District of Columbia – now I’m not saying this just because I have a real judge and a real director sitting in front of me – the specialty courts have done such a great job, have gotten such great publicity. There’s a lot going on.  You are an activist court, really moving in a lot of different directions, really doing a wonderful job. People from around the country are noticing what it is that you all do here in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, so that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to have you in today. Give me a sense as to the process, Judge Bush, in terms of the offenders or the young individuals that you try to assist.

Judge Zoe Bush: Well, I’m not sure I’ll accept being an activist. I think we’re progressive and very thoughtful in our approach to our young people, and I’m very proud of all the work that we do at the Superior Court and in general. We’re the Trial Court of the General Jurisdiction for the District of Columbia, and we’ve got about 90 associate and magistrate judges, and in the Family Court we’ve got 19 judges and we hear cases for juveniles, families with abuse and neglect issues, domestic relations, mental health, and paternity and support.  I’m very fortunate that I have four judges who have dedicated juvenile calendars meaning that’s all they hear. I have one judge who part time hears a calendar that involves young people who are diverted from the juvenile calendar so that they can get special mental health treatment. I have a judge who hears status offender cases. Those are young people charged with offenses that only children can be charged with, and that would be truancy, being ungovernable or running away from home, and then there is one judge who hears the initial hearing cases for juveniles when they are first brought to court.  So we have a lot of resources. Every kid or every young person has a lawyer assigned to them, whether their family can afford it or not, from the very first day they come into court. We have an excellent Court Social Services division. I’m very proud of the work that Ms. Alderman and her team does for us, and I never feel that a young person just gets churned through the system. I know they get individual attention. We look at what their needs are and not just the offense that they are charged with, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work that we do.

Len Sipes: Would you suggest, Your Honor,  that it is unusual for most court systems in the country to have the resources that you within the Superior Court have at your disposal? My sense is that you do things over at the Superior Court in the District of Columbia far more comprehensively than most court systems in most cities in most states throughout the country.

Judge Zoe Bush: We are so fortunate in our leadership. Our Chief Judge is a former Presiding Judge over Family Court, and that’s Chief Judge Lee Satterfield. He understands what we’re doing and we’ve got very strong leadership and consistency. For judges to come into Family Court, they have to volunteer to come to Family Court and they have to be trained in early childhood development and other family-related issues and so, yes, you’re right. We make very good use of the resources that we have.

Len Sipes: But you have resources that other jurisdictions don’t have. I think that’s the point that I’m trying to get to. You know, a lot of jurisdictions in this country – even at the juvenile level which is supposed to be based upon treatment more than it is at the adult level in terms of punishment or re-entry – even at that level, a lot of courts, a lot of agencies throughout the country complain that they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the commitment, they don’t have the judges who are really specializing in a juvenile population. My guess is that you have resources that other jurisdictions do not.

Judge Zoe Bush: I think we’ve very smart with the resources that we do have. Ms. Odom can talk about the drop-in centers but probation officers have to work some place and we choose that they don’t all work downtown. They work in the communities where the young people live so that they are accessible to these young folks and their families.  In all jurisdictions, young people have to have lawyers but the lawyers that we have go through a panel review so that we know that they’re trained in juvenile law, they’re held to standards, and we have training for them on a monthly basis at the courthouse so that we know that they understand the issues and the services that are appropriate for young people.

Len Sipes: Terri, you’re the Director of Family Court Social Services Division so in essence you’re in charge of making sure the individuals are both treated and supervised all at the same time. Oh, and one of the things that we did not say at the beginning is that you deal with the pre-trial as well as a probation population, correct?

Yes, that’s correct.

Len Sipes: Okay. So give me a sense as to the resources that you have, your philosophy, the philosophy of the people under you, what you do to help and supervise the individuals involved in Family Court.

Terri Odom: Well, I think it starts with having a robust, talented pool of staff that you work with, and I think you build on that talent by doing training. I think that in the current fiscal economy, though dollars to go to training are not available, we do a lot of in-house training. We have a Child Guidance Clinic where we have five fulltime licensed clinical psychologists who provide the psychological, psycho-educational. They provide a host of forensic evaluations like the sexual clinical risk assessments.  So we get a lot of clinical training with our probation officers from our in-house physicians but a lot of it, I think, deals with having a talented pool of POs, of probation officers, and building the kind of logic model that you then support with your resources. I wouldn’t want the viewers to think that the District of Columbia’s court system and Family Court have been sort of saved or spared from the fiscal reality. It is affecting all jurisdictions, and I talk to my colleagues across the country, directors of probation.  But I think that what happens is as you continue to look at how you can build your resources, we’ve relied more on a model wherein our POs are kind of the boots on the ground so we’re not just managing cases and farming out our youth juvenile population elsewhere. We are literally doing a portion of that work.

Len Sipes: Direct service.

Terri Odom: Absolutely, we have a direct service component through our probation model as well. It’s a public/private partnership. So in that regard, I think we leverage our resources better because we don’t have to buy as much because we do a lot in-house.

Len Sipes: Well, there are approximately 1,500 individuals your charge.

Terri Odom: Yes.

Len Sipes: And they range from the ages of 12 to 19. Now the interesting thing is that again, in terms of juvenile offenders, young offenders within the District of Columbia, they are split between the Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services, which are the more serious offenders, and then they have the Family Court of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. That means they’re under your jurisdiction, correct?

Terri Odom: Yes.

Len Sipes: Okay. So in essence – look. I’ve spent a lot of times when I left the Police Department – now to the fun part of the program, now we’ve gotten through all that – and after leaving the Police Department, I put myself through college. So I was a Gang Counselor in the City of Baltimore, worked the streets, and I suddenly found that law enforcement is a piece of cake compared to dealing with people who are either caught up in the criminal justice system or about to be caught up in the criminal justice system. I found that adults are much easier to work with than younger individuals.  I learned far more than they taught me. They taught me far more than I taught them, rather. Dealing with the juvenile population certainly does have its challenges, and you guys, generally speaking, have a rate of success that is better than the national average. How do you do that? What is the philosophy that you guys bring to the table that is different from what other people are doing?

Terri Odom: I think that we have judges who really understand our young people, and who want to work with our young people, and who have a lot of confidence in our probation officers. I can tell you as a parent that the difference between young people who are successful and young people who struggle is that they have adults who care about them and who try and guide them along the way. Just from raising my own child, she has the same impulses, the same immaturity as some of the young people who would appear before me on my calendar but the difference would be that I was there to guide her along and to make sure she had what she needed.  You can’t substitute for parents but what we try to do is to support our young people. We don’t just treat them as the offenses that they committed but we try and partner with their parents to support their parents to get the services in place so that the young person can then be redirect, so that they can be successful at school and they can cooperate at home and not be a problem in the community.

Len Sipes: One of the things that I do want to repeat is that the philosophy of the Juvenile Justice System both in the District of Columbia and any juvenile justice system throughout the country is treatment. It’s not punishment, it’s treatment, and there are people who don’t like that but it’s nevertheless a reality of how we do criminal justice in this country. Unless the person is charged as an adult, which you don’t have those kind of individuals, your job is to try to restore that individual by working with the offender, the family, the parents, the school, the community, and to try to bring a comprehensive approach to what is it that you do, correct?

Terri Odom: Yes. Absolutely.

Len Sipes: Tell me about it.

Terri Odom: Well, I would say our philosophy at Juvenile Probation is that first and foremost, we want to treat the children the way we would our own, recognizing that they’re not our own but they are entrusted in our care. We see ourselves as the eyes and ears of the judiciary, and the judges rely upon us and the stakeholders to ensure that what is ordered is carried out, to ensure that that which is needed for our young people is accorded to them, and to monitor the young people in such a way that they are less tempted to get into trouble.  So our philosophy is to – we don’t believe in a cookie-cutter approach. We don’t believe that the same thing that works for me will work for you and everybody else. A lot of times that has to be tailored, and gathering information, learning about the family is very important, learning about the youth. We gather information that looks at were there complications while the youth was carried in the womb. What were their early developmental years like? How did they fare in school? Were there any traumatic events? Trauma is extremely, extremely significant when you talk about vulnerable populations and populations that are being [INDISCERNIBLE 00:11:41].

Len Sipes: Absolutely.

Terri Odom: So then we look at it from a strength-based approach. How do we best connect with our young people, and that’s why we’re doing the school visits, that’s why we have the drop-in centers. We try to create youth-friendly environments where we can re-norm and re-teach conduct.

Len Sipes: How difficult are the individuals that you service? I mean, Your Honor, my guess is that because of the reliance on specialty courts in the District of Columbia – and I like your word “progressive” – but it is. I mean, the Superior Court has branched out in a dozen different directions trying to bring that sense of end business as usual, really having judges being proactively involved in a wide variety of cases. My guess is that a judge in the District of Columbia is going to see the individual under supervision, the juvenile, the young person, more often than judges in most jurisdictions.

Judge Zoe Bush: I think we have a number of advantages. We’re all located on the John Marshall level which is one floor of the courthouse, and on that floor in the courthouse we have our partners in the Executive. We have a Mayor Services Liaison’s Office so that we can send the families there and they can meet with representatives from Housing, from the schools, from Child and Family Services, drug treatment issues, so that we’re not running these people all over town, recognizing they have limited resources and a lot of responsibilities, and very often they’re in crisis.  We’ve got Court Social Services right across the street, we’ve got the Office of the Attorney General very close by so that we’re able to work as a team because just as no one parent acts along, the court doesn’t have a magic wand. You can write anything on a piece of paper and call it an order but unless you’re able to deliver, and to coordinate services, and to meet the needs, and meet that child where they are, and to partner with their family, you’re not going to have a successful outcome.

Len Sipes: But what I’ve found in the District of Columbia is that there is a lot of – I don’t want to use the word “activism” and I’m not quite sure the word “progressive” fits here. Judges are more involved in the District of Columbia in a wide variety of cases than my experience in other part of the Criminal Justice System. Again, my guess is – I’ll go back to this question – my guess is that the younger individuals that are under the purview of the Family Court come into contact with judges more often than they ordinarily do, and I think that contact with the judge, if I’m correct, is one of the main reasons why you have a rate of success that’s higher than the national average. Am I right or wrong?

Judge Zoe Bush: I think you’re right. I think most of our judges, even after the young person has been found involved or enters a plea of involvement, they have continued review of probation to make sure that young person is compliant with their conditions, that they’re getting all the services that have been ordered for them, and that the parents aren’t concerned about their child’s safety and their child’s development. I know that our judges have volunteered to go into the schools to try to intervene early so that young people don’t have to be prosecuted for truancy and so that they can get the education that they need and that the needs of the family are met in partnership with our community collaborative partners who also go into the schools with us.

I know Court Social Service probation officers can always tell the judge – because I was a Head of Juvenile Calendar for four years before I started as the Deputy Presiding Judge – but we can always count on Court Social Service probation officers to tell us, “I’ve been to the school. I’ve talked to the attendance officer. I’ve talked to the teachers. I’ve gone to the home,” and they see these kids in the community, they send them back home, and they have a real responsibility that’s met, and they care about these kids. I haven’t met probations officers who are just there to get a paycheck.

Len Sipes: I’m going to re-introduce my guests, ladies and gentlemen. We’re talking about Family Courts and Young Offenders specifically, though one in the District of Columbia. For the Superior Court, we have Judge Zoe Bush. She is the Presiding Judge of the Family Court for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. We have Terri Odom, the Director of the Family Court Social Services Division. Terri, are you better equipped than most parole and probation agencies in the country? Do you have a smaller ratio of officers to people under supervision?

Terri Odom: Well, I don’t know that I would describe us as better equipped. I think what we have done – and again, this is a testament to our leadership with respect to our Chief Judge, our Executive Officer, and our Presiding Judge of the Family Court, and working with our stakeholders – is we decentralized our probation infrastructure in such a way that it allows us to be more accessible in the community and in closer proximity to the youth that we work with so we have a satellite office in every quadrant of the city. We have one on Martin Luther King and Beach Street Southeast, one on South Capitol across the street from the Nationals, one on Reed Street which is around the corner from Rhode Island Avenue, so that’s northeast, southeast, and southwest, and then we have one on Kalorama Road. So by decentralizing, we are, I think better located; and then we have retooled our whole probation model. We began that back in 2005.

Len Sipes: A community-based approach is what you’re talking about instead of so many jurisdictions throughout the country have a centralized approach.

Terri Odom: Absolutely. We had to decentralize, and what we also had to do is cross-train our staff. So we cross-train our probation officers in a way that once you start a case, you continue to work that case on until it closes, and if that person picks up another charge, you work that case again.

Len Sipes: Do they really get the services that they need? I mean, how many parole and probation offices in this country, whether they are adult or juvenile – you know, I’ve talked to dozens of people throughout the country who tell me that they don’t have those resources. If they have a person with a mental health problem, they tell that person to go to the local community health clinic, and that person waits a month-and-a-half or two months before they get involved in a group, and so in between that time it’s anybody’s guess as to what’s going to happen.  So a lot of supervision agencies, whether they be adult or juvenile, don’t have the resources to immediately get people involved in programs. Do you have sufficient resources?

Terri Odom: I think we have a great deal of resources and access, and I think that has to do with the fact that many of the agencies that we rely on to provide those services under the executive branch, we work collaboratively with. We are on a number of committees. We interact quite frequently, and there is a commitment toward resource-sharing but more importantly a commitment to prevent duplication of effort because, for example, of we had a situation where we couldn’t access public mental health services for our kids who have no private insurance, then we would be attempting to facilitate that, and that’s not necessarily our role.

Len Sipes: And that’s one of the reasons why, when I asked Judge Bush is the average judge more involved than judges in other jurisdictions through the country, I ordinarily find that judges in the District of Columbia are far more involved than judges in other sections of the country. That’s one of the reasons why I asked that question because I think having a judge directly involved in the lives of those kids means a judge is directly involved in the treatment and supervision of those individuals under supervision which means people pay attention. They may not pay attention to me as a parole and probation agent but boy, they do pay attention to a judge when a judge wants something done.

Judge Zoe Bush: Well, you know, the Family Court is a model court on the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and that’s a collaborative approach to helping families. So we meet regularly with service providers, with mental health, with the schools, with drug treatment, and with other agencies in the city so that as Ms. Odom said, we can collaborate and make the best use of our resources.  On our mental health diversion calendar, the young people who would normally see a judge maybe once a month would see a judge once every two weeks, and the Mental Health Services aren’t just community-based. They’re home-based. The service provider goes into the home. They meet with not just the child but with the child’s siblings and with their parents also because as Ms. Odom mentioned, trauma is so important because a lot of our young people live in under-served communities.  They see a lot of violence and they’re subjected to situations that adults couldn’t even navigate, and so we have to understand that, and so when a child is not able to sit still in school and they’re acting out, it’s not because they don’t want to learn. They’re responding to stimuli that they brought into the classroom with them, and so it’s important to recognize that and to help that young person.

Len Sipes: Well, but that’s the challenge because when I did – I also had Jail or Job Corps where the judge said, “Go to jail or go to the Job Corps.” So I had a youthful population. Like I said, I did gang counseling on the streets of the city of Baltimore. Both populations taught me far more than I taught them because they are involved emotionally with things that they have no business being emotionally involved in – violence, drugs, acting out.  Pulling them back from the brink of getting more deeply involved in those sort of behaviors is very hard to do. It’s not easy. Most of them come from broken homes. Most of them have histories of substance abuse. Most of them, the father was not present. Most of them had anger issues, and what I sometimes say about the population that we have here at CSOSA, “a chip on their shoulder the size of Montana.”  So breaking through those barriers is not easy with a younger population. On every instance, I’ll take a 35-year-old coming out of prison than a 15-year-old who may be going towards prison because it’s easier to deal with the 35-year-old.

Terri Odom: There are a number of practitioners who have said that they would prefer to work with an older population, and if you look at treatment models in the adult world, those programs are based on a typical prototype of someone who is late-20s, early-30s into their mid-40s because that’s a point where you’re kind of settled. There’s less resistance. There’s less fight.

Len Sipes: Right.

Terri Odom: On the other hand, I think that the progressive nature of a juvenile system, and ours sort of very much models the juvenile system that began overseas in Europe, what’s to say we don’t have to wait to that age because you also look at how much life is lost during that period, that you want to get in at an earlier age, and you want to give someone a chance to turn their life around and redirect them, sort of a launching pad.

Len Sipes: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Terri Odom: But not everyone can do it.

Len Sipes: The most criminogenic ages are 15 and 20, so the 35-year-old is beyond their peak of offending. The 35-year-old is far more amenable to treatment than the 15-year-old.

Terri Odom: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Len Sipes: So the challenge that both of you have, I mean, we’ve sat here and described a very bureaucratic system but the challenge that the two of you have is immense.

Terri Odom: Well, I guess the reason I was agreeing with you up to a point is I think that’s true when you look at the traditional treatment construct and logic model that we have relied on in America which is we build it for adults, and then we think we can shrink it and make it appropriate for kids and adolescents, and that will not work. But when you take an adolescent-friendly approach that looks at developmental stages of adolescence theoretically, and then looking at environmentally, and looking at it where particular localities and jurisdictions are concerned, you can create interventions and you can create ways to respond and even ways to prevent that type of behavior that can be far more effective.

Len Sipes: No, no. I agree with you. I agree with you. If you have the resources and the direct involvement on the part of the judges, you have a dedicated, trained team; you have people who volunteer to do all these things, that’s a wonderful thing to have. I never saw that in either Job Corps or my time in the terms of a street counselor. I just saw a bunch of kids on the brink of having their lives ruined, and I reached out to their families, and I found out their families were sometimes the problem, not the solution.

Terri Odom: Well, you can’t treat a child in isolation. You really have to partner with their family, and I think what you find when you really look at the child as an individual, that young person is very open to having someone reach out to them and to see them and to hear them so that they know they matter. Every human being, I don’t care how old you are, you want to know that you actually matter, and when you’re consistent with these young people – because they’ve been disappointed a lot, there are a lot of deficits in their lives – and so when you tell them you’re going to help them and you actually live up to that, when you deliver the services, when you do care about them, and you do provide them with opportunities to express themselves and to be positive, it is paid back ten-fold, and it really is.

I’m so proud of our balanced and restorative justice systems because the young people who are there often get together to get in trouble, and when they can get together and do something that’s positive, their faces shine because we the judges will go over and have dinner and the young people will learn how to cook and they’ll cook dinner for us, and they’ll write essays about their role models and what they aspire to be, and their faces just shine. They love getting positive reinforcement.

Len Sipes: And I don’t want to take anything away from Terri’s folks because I am positive that it’s crucial for Terri’s people to be there but I still go back to what I find an amazing amount of direct contact within the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, the judges being out there in the criminal justice system, talking to the people under supervision, talking to the families, talking to the fathers, talking to the – that’s my sense is that you’re talking to – describing their kids cooking for you. That doesn’t surprise me at all within the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. It would surprise me in terms of most judicial jurisdictions in the country.

Terri Odom: We are also very fortunate that we have legislative parental participation orders so that we make sure that the parents come to court. They know what’s going on with their young person’s case. They know the judge. They have their child’s dates. They know their child’s responsibility to check in with probation. They expect probation officers to come to their homes, and they know that we’re going to be asking them to follow up and to help support their child, so it’s a real partnership.

Len Sipes: We only have a couple of minutes left. What’s the secret sauce? I ask all of my guests that run successful programs, what is the secret sauce? So I didn’t warn you I was going to ask you this question. I want it right off the top of your head. What is the secret to your success?

Terri Odom: I think the secret to our success in juvenile probation starts with the support from the executive leadership of the court, and I think it involves a top-down bottom-up lateral approach of support. In other words, we resolve that we can collectively create a model or a concept or idea, but what really makes it work is when we step back and let the staff take it over and put their own what I call thumbprint or fingerprint on it. That’s the secret sauce.

Len Sipes: Your Honor, you’ve got about a minute. What’s your secret sauce answer?

Judge Zoe Bush: I think when you can see yourself in that child, and you embrace that child and recognize their potential and help them to redirect themselves.

Len Sipes: I saw so much potential, and I reach out to so many kids, and my heart went out to these kids. It didn’t necessarily work. Recognizing the potential and having a success are having two different things.

Judge Zoe Bush: But maybe you planted the seed and it didn’t cultivate in your time but that doesn’t mean that it won’t, and that’s what we have to commit ourselves to.

Len Sipes: It still ripped my heart out to see kids fail and to see kids not succeed.

Judge Zoe Bush: Well, you’re not going to save everybody, and I’m not that much of a, you know, Polly Sunshine. Some young people are going to graduate into the adult system and you will see them over at CSOSA but so many of our young people come through. They stumble, they fall, but they’re able to get back up with some help, and that’s the truth.

Len Sipes: Well, it is the truth. I mean, so many people are willing to write off young offenders as being lost causes. I’ve seen it personally first-hand that so many people have pulled themselves up and have succeeded, and if they have the resources like you all have, the level of involvement on the judges and Ms. Odom’s team, that to me increases the chance for success considerably, which is why you have a better completion record than the national average, correct?

Terri Odom: We’re happy to accept the praise.

Len Sipes: But am I right?

Judge Zoe Bush: I think so.

Len Sipes: Okay. So the part of it is understanding the potential but also part of it is the involvement of the judges, and also part of it is the resources that Terri’s team, that Ms. Odom’s team brings to the table, correct?

Terri Odom: Um, and a commitment that we don’t want to give up on anyone. We can’t save everyone but we’re going to make an effort.

Len Sipes: Right, but I think that’s the secret sauce, the commitment of the judges and being personally involved in the case loads, and plus having trained people who are able to do the job and are committed to the job.

Terri Odom: Absolutely. Absolutely

Len Sipes: All right, you all had the final word. Ladies and gentlemen, we talked today about Family Courts and Young Offenders. We’ve had as our guests today Judge Zoe Bush. She is the Presiding Judge for the Family Court of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. We’ve also had Terri Odom, the Director of the Family Court Social Services Division. The web address is www.dccourts.gov. www.dccourts.gov. Ladies and gentlemen, his is DC Public Safety. We really do appreciate all of your comments. We really do even appreciate your criticisms, and we want everybody to have yourselves a very, very pleasant day.

[Audio Ends]

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