Understanding Juvenile Justice
Judge Joins Classrooms to Gain Perspective
Kids. Don't you just love ‘em?
The problem is they don't come with an instruction manual.
As a juvenile judge in Brevard County, I witnessed the handcuffed results of poor decision making every day.
My job was to help kids not receive another chrome-plated invitation to see me.
During the next few issues of Everything Brevard, I will share some insights I learned from my experience as a juvenile judge.
My first day in juvenile court was eye-opening. Mind you, this is for offenders younger than 18. Some appeared big enough to play professional football. Others were so small that they were hidden behind the podium and had to reach up to sign paperwork.
So every day for over three years, I watched them come and I watched them go. I had a few successes and a few failures. Some graduated from high school. Others graduated to felony court and state prison.
My overall conclusion about delinquent kids?
About 50% of the children were in juvenile court because the parents didn't have a clue about how to see and avoid the train wreck of behaviors their children were about to commit. This observation stuck with me for many years, but while I was working, I never had the time to test it or share it.
Then I retired, and an idea occurred to me: Why not go back to being a kid again and see what it was like to feel the wrath of discipline and sit with energetic impatience in an adult world?
I decided to go back, way back — to school again. So, with the help of our local school board, I re-entered first grade as a student and progressed one day at a time through each of the twelve primary grades of school.
I would participate as a student, not an observer. I would squeeze into those little desks. I would share gossip, pass notes, and cut out paper action Groundhog Day figures. I would meet diminutive new friends, be a hero during a tug-of-war contest, and would cringe on those frequent occasions when one of us got in trouble.
It was a truly satisfying experience. I learned that you can be a great parent to a third grader but a counterproductive one to a 16-year-old. Parents must adapt, change strategies, and grow each day just as their offspring do. Failing to do so, even in the midst of surviving life's other hectic endeavors, means so many lost opportunities to prune the delinquent sprouts that arise in the minds of the fertile juvenile mind.
So, please look out for the next issue of Everything Brevard and I’ll share a few secret skills I learned back in school as a kid again.
I have my little lunchbox packed and ready to go.
Larry Johnston grew up in Brevard County, where his family lived on a boat during his high school years. He has held a Merchant Marine captain's license and flight instructor and airline transport pilot rating. He retired after 17 years as a circuit judge and now writes and travels throughout the U.S. gathering material with his wife in their motorhome. He can be reached at LarryJohnstonFL@aol.com.
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