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Teens Jailed for Family Squabbles

November 20, 2012 permalink

A news report from Memphis shows the police handling minor family squabbles that in normal families would be settled by the father. In every cited example the only parent mentioned is the mother. Here is a question we don't have the answer for: How many of the fathers were driven out of the child's life by the social services or family court system?



Memphis teens often jailed over family squabbles

Twin 16-year-old girls who fought with each other were in court Monday accused of domestic assault, the No. 1 juvenile crime in Memphis.

Last year, about 900 youths were charged with domestic assault. The next most common charge was disorderly conduct, brought against 665 minors.

Shelby County Juvenile Court officials, facing a federal mandate to reduce the number of youths who are jailed, say they need help from the teens' relatives as well as law enforcement.

Jerry Maness, director of court services, said national studies show that even one day in lockup can have a lasting negative impact on youths.

"Parents use law enforcement to discipline children," he said. "They want to teach them a lesson, but who do they think is doing the teaching down here?"

Some of the incidents that bring youths to court involve injury, but many are minor. Juvenile Court records for September show a 14-year-old girl was arrested for poking her brother in the face with her finger and throwing her shoe at him. A 17-year-old was hauled to a police precinct by her mother after refusing to obey and cursing. A 15-year-old was arrested after refusing her mother's orders to get out of bed and leave her friend's house.

Of 9,961 minors arrested last year, 33 percent were referred by their parents, foster parents or other relatives, according to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is working in Memphis and nearly 200 other jurisdictions across the nation to find alternatives to detention for disadvantaged youths.

The state's juvenile court system is focused on rehabilitating, not punishing, youth, and local court officials say exasperated parents or guardians should take responsibility for discipline. The mother of a 15-year-old had her son arrested in September for using her debit card to buy a shirt and hat, and another mother turned her son in for an old burglary case. But most, such as last month's case of a 16-year-old who hit his mother in the foot, were domestic assault cases.

Rick Powell, the head of the Juvenile Detention Center, said often the teens learn violence from their relatives. He recalled an incident in which several students got into a brawl and were arrested. Their parents arrived at the jail and got into their own fight in the lobby.

Of the 47 juveniles currently in lockup, 15 percent are jailed for domestic assault charges, Powell said. And more than one-third have two or more siblings who have also been previously arrested for various charges.

October arrests include teens who pushed their mothers after refusing to do chores or while trying to leave to see their boyfriends.

Of the youths brought to the jail last year, about 10 percent could have returned home earlier than they did, but their relatives refused to get them, Maness said.

"As a community, we have a problem," Powell said. "What can we do to help that mom out without involving the juvenile justice system?"

Mark Soler, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Children's Law and Policy, hopes to help Shelby County find the answer. He is the liaison between the youth court here and the Casey Foundation's Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, a program that kicked off this month.

Powell said he believes one option is to expand emergency shelter space to keep youths away from their families during a cooling-off period while avoiding exposure to gang members and other more seasoned law breakers at the jail.

Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal