Posts Tagged ‘children’

September 3, 2010

‘Bad guy’ act wasn’t always an act


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The star of Robert Rodriguez’s new film, Machete, wasn’t always just acting. In a recent interview with TIME, Danny Trejo talks about his career as a juvenile drug addict and armed robber; a career that took him to “every penitentiary in the state of California” before he turned his life around and became a drug counselor in L.A.

Trejo was a real live tough guy whose best friend applied his first prison tattoo with a needle and thread. He changed. As an adult, he’s led a stellar career that has placed him in more than 200 films playing (usually) the villain that he used to see himself as. The irony doesn’t escape him and he laughs off the violence portrayed in Machete by explaining that “[it's] almost funny. It’s not gory. You’re shocked, and then you laugh.”

The fact is that Trejo got lucky. Once they’re in, most kids like him don’t ever get out of the system. Some are relegated to institutions for the rest of their lives for a single mistake. In Colorado alone, there are 49 offenders sentenced to life without parole as children. Yet, some of those kids’ crimes were as innocuous as helping an armed robber like Trejo get away from what turned out to be a botched job. They are the unlucky few.

Many of us have stories like Trejo’s. Many of us had violent or abusive childhoods. Many of us were lucky enough not to get caught up in the system. Don’t we owe the unlucky ones a little understanding? Life sentences for kids–even the ones who were party to a criminal act that resulted in death–are wrong. They deny children the right to make the choice that Trejo made. They deny them the right to become adults.

If Trejo is an example of ‘the worst of the worst’ and he was rehabilitated then our denial of childrens’ humanity and potential for change is a truly sad reality.

September 2, 2010

Negative or positive, the cycle repeats…


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When I was a kid, I was a big fan of Full House, which among others starred Bob Saget, John Stamos and Jodie Sweetin.  I loved the idyllic representation of a non-traditional family whose comedic antics had adults and kids, alike rolling with laughter. Today, Jodie Sweetin gave birth to another child and headlines went up. That birth drives home for me a very simple truth: the cycle of life repeats itself.

For many that cycle–a child grows into an adult and has children of her own–is not a positive one. A little over a year ago, my cousin gave birth to a new baby. Addicted to meth, I worried about my cousin’s ability to stay clean and raise that child. She probably won’t get the chance because she was recently sentenced to 10 years under the supervision of the Department of Corrections in Colorado (my cousin’s child is under the care of her grandmother).  My cousin’s case is a mild one in comparison with some of  the more devastating effects of child abuse and neglect.

Right now, on the Western Slope, 15-year-old John Caudle is being held for evaluation pending trial for the murder of his mother and step father. He faces 80 years in prison for trying to free himself from the cycle of drug addiction and abuse wrought by his parents–by adults he was supposed to trust. Dozens more victims of abuse who, as children, took the law into their own hands sit idle in prison. Sentenced to terms as long as life without parole, they will likely never have the chance to break the cycle and lead lives as idyllic as the one portrayed in Full House.

Jodie Sweetin had her own struggle with methamphetamine. So far she’s been able to stay clean. She’s lucky; she got a second chance and we applaud her. Don’t child abuse victims sitting in prison for trying to get the same second chance deserve the same understanding?

Children are different from adults. Dozens of studies show that teens, in particular, lack the same decision-making capacity as adults and yet when they become inconvenient; when their parents fail them, we seek to discard them and put them in cold storage–many times for the rest of their lives. Why are those children any less deserving of society’s understanding than Jodie Sweetin?

August 25, 2010

Parricide expert weighs in on Caudle trial


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By Mary Ellen Johnson, Executive Director, The Pendulum Foundation

John Caudle was fourteen-years-old when he killed his mother and step-father in their secluded home near Monte Vista, Colorado. The crime made national news. Parricide generally does.

There are two ways of handling a parricide case. If the child’s lucky, prosecutors and press will investigate before “creating a narrative.” They’ll key on one truth – kids who kill their parents generally have a very good reason, so let’s determine that reason before playing Mr. Hardcore and gunning for the kid’s life. Or, they’ll declare this kid is Satan’s spawn and we’re going to take him out.

In John Caudle’s case there was a bit of both. Looking at this skinny kid in over-sized glasses, the community didn’t see the devil in a tattered t-shirt. Plus stories of abuse immediately began circulating.

A family friend told us, “There are some really weird stories which make me think his mom was mentally unstable.  Joanne used to do some weird sadistic sorts of things that were more emotionally abusive and really cruel…Apparently, John kept quiet about a lot of the abuse because his mother would threaten him.  The stories I have heard from credible sources even involve John being tasered by his mom for punishment.  And this is when he was 7 or 8 years old.  John did not qualify for the school breakfast and lunch program because his step father made too much money.  Yet, his teachers noticed that he always seemed to have a lunch that looked scraped together.  And from the police report, when they went to the crime scene they noted very little food in the house.  Apparently, his mother and step-father would eat dinner and then when they finished John was allowed to make his own dinner.  Consequently, he lived on hot dogs and spaghetti.  I guess life is actually better in prison in some ways.  At least he gets regular meals.”

In many cases of child abuse, these kids are invisible to anyone with the authority to intervene. “I didn’t know anything was wrong,” they say after a tragedy.  “The parents seemed like nice people.” “He was a good student – a little different maybe. But we had no idea.” Such was not the case with John. Social Services followed Joanne and John through various states and investigations, including Colorado. Here, a teacher reported John after he came to school with a black eye. John was never removed from his house, though classes were ordered.

Despite the abuse, despite community sympathy, despite available legal alternatives to a harsh adult sentence, District Attorney David Mahonee believes it’s his duty to make sure a severely abused kid who got no help from the system and felt trapped in a endless nightmare, should be locked away for the rest of his natural life. Because make no mistake: when John Caudle is convicted — and he will be in a state where DA’s have a 90% conviction rate – he will be immediately sent into the adult prison system. No stopover in juvenile hall until John’s 18 or 21. No sir, not here in Colorado. Put him in with the biggest and baddest. He killed his parents, he was convicted, he deserves no mercy. And he won’t receive any.

John Caudle is still months away from trial. Because of Colorado law, he is kept isolated.  John exists in a legal limbo: the state says he’s an adult and he must be treated as an adult. The state also says he’s a kid and has to be kept separated from adults. However, since there are few accommodations for children in your local jail the solution is to keep him walled off from most human contact. While John’s attorneys are consumed by his case, pre-trial preparation  does NOT necessarily include a lot of one-on-one time with your client, especially when the jail is 45 minutes away.  During the school year former teachers volunteered to keep John abreast of his studies, but their visits averaged about 4 hours a week, and for the rest of the valley it’s still summer. No classes. Most of John’s time is spent watching television, sometimes reading, occasionally writing  letters. No friends. Little communication. Lots of time to think .No one to help him sort through his past, or his deed. Recently two other juveniles who were direct filed into the adult system and kept isolated as  John is being isolated, committed suicide.

Isn’t it ironic that a kid who went through hell with his parents is going through hell at the hands of the state?

August 11, 2010

Senator John Morse: A powerhouse of common sense


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If anyone qualifies as a political enigma, Senate Majority Leader John Morse may be at the top of the list. A Democrat from traditionally conservative Colorado Springs, Morse made a career out of law enforcement and holds several advanced degrees including a PhD in Public Administration and an MBA. His tenure as a Sergeant in the Colorado Springs Police Department eventually led him to a long-term position as Police Chief in Fountain where he made community policing a hallmark of his department. had the extraordinary opportunity to interview the lawmaker about criminal and juvenile justice issues. Judging from that interview, it is safe to say that Senator Morse stands at the pinnacle of leadership in the State of Colorado and it is our privilege to endorse him.

STOPDIRECTFILE.ORG: You’ve spoken a lot about the importance of Community Policing. What is community policing?

SENATOR MORSE: Community Policing is actively engaging the community in identifying and resolving the issues that lead to crime and disorder. So often, the police sort of figure out for themselves what the problems are or what they want to address and leave the community out of it. We sort of police on to the community instead of policing from within the community. So, community policing is actively working with the community to figure out what issues are important to them and how those issues should be addressed.

STOPDIRECTFILE.ORG:  Why did you choose to go into law enforcement?

SENATOR MORSE: I worked my way through college on a paramedic ambulance and every day I bounced out of bed and said ‘I get to go to work this morning.’ I was going to college; getting an accounting and finance degree. When I finished my degree, I went to work as a CPA and that was great, but I didn’t bounce out of bed every morning saying ‘I want to go to work today.’  With ambulances you sit and wait for calls to come in, but in a police department you get to go out and meet people and that’s exciting in its own right.  The police thing is fascinating on many different levels, but that’s how I got into it and eventually ended up being Chief of Police in Fountain.

STOPDIRECTFILE.ORG: What in your background and experience most informs your work as a state legislator?

SENATOR MORSE: I touched on the fact that I was a paramedic. The CPA also informs my work a great deal as I spent a year on the Joint Budget Committee. That was huge. After I left my position as Police Chief in Fountain, I was president and CEO of Silver Key Senior Services, a non-profit organization that enables people over 60 to stay in their homes as long as possible. That taught me about seniors and the importance of senior issues.  One of the things I learned at Silver Key, that seems to be common sense, is that dental work is so important because as you age into your 80s and 90s you lose your teeth. If you pay attention to seniors’ diet and see that they get at least one hot meal a day, the benefits are enormous, but if their teeth don’t support their nutrition their health deteriorates rapidly. Medicare doesn’t cover dental so when their teeth start to go bad you can just watch them lose their lives.

STOPDIRECTFILE.ORG: You seem very detail oriented. In 2008 you voted to reduce consequences for parolees who violate minor provisions of their parole. Can you tell us more about that legislation and what sort of budgetary implications it had?

SENATOR MORSE: I can’t be too specific without the fiscal note in front of me, but  we estimate it costs us about $28,000 per year to hold someone in prison. Keeping them on the street preferably as a law abiding, fully employed, productive member of society they’re actually contributing to the tax base.  You subtract the cost of incarceration and add the revenue from a productive citizen and it seems like a pretty good net improvement in the fiscal scheme of things. If you watch people long enough, especially as a police officer, it is only a matter of time before they violate a traffic law. When you’ve got somebody on parole, by definition you’re watching them very carefully. People are people and they’re going to make mistakes so you have to be able to differentiate between the stupid things and dangerous things parolees do that might be red flags. What this bill, in my view, was really about was making the distinction between those things so that we don’t send everybody back automatically, but we send just those back that really need to go back. Again, if you watch people long enough we will all make mistakes.

STOPDIRECTFILE.ORG: For you, what is the balance between punishment and rehabilitation?

I wish I had a pithy answer for the difference between punishment and rehabilitation. Punishment is sometimes absolutely necessary both from a societal standpoint as well as an individual standpoint. But punishment needs to be consistent with the crime committed and often we’re punishing people for the rest of their lives over once in a lifetime mistakes.  That’s not appropriate.

One thing we did last session, specifically in Colorado Springs, is we instituted a veteran’s court.  We send lots of young men and women to Iraq and Afghanistan  and they are submitted to huge stresses including  lots of blast injuries.  The soldiers within a block or two of a blast radius end up having their brains rattled. We’re now learning that some of those soldiers come back more aggressive, less patient, less tolerant of society and, for lack of a better term, ‘snap.’ They end up doing something – drink and drive, incur accidents, abuse drugs.  We created the veteran’s court so that judges can consider why veterans might be acting out and devise ways to mitigate their behavior without necessarily putting them in prison and throwing away the key.  Its a pretty good idea, in my view. Every criminal probably has a ‘reason’ why they are the way they are.  So if we can start with this veteran’s court where we take the issues that people have and mitigate them and learn how to do that for everyone then we can start drilling down and say ‘hey, this kid is suffering PTSD related to the way that he was [abused] and that’s why [he] did this and this is how we can fix it to put [him] back on the straight and narrow.’

I think it is fascinating how we’re starting to realize that our soldiers aren’t fully responsible for what they’ve done. Sure we have to punish them and hold them accountable on the one hand, but we have to make darn sure they get the treatment they need so that they don’t fall back into this trap later. That’s a good idea. We should do that for everybody.

STOPDIRECTFILE.ORG: In 2010 you sponsored legislation that reduced drug use to a misdemeanor. Why did you decide to fight for reductions in sentencing?

SENATOR MORSE: We have to look at the system as a whole and what it is really accomplishing. If we’re dinging people for doing drugs, are we really accomplishing something? Is that really having a societal benefit? I think the answer is not only no, but hell no. People tried prohibition and that didn’t really work. You absolutely shouldn’t drink and drive. I have probably made more arrests for drinking and driving as a patrol officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department than any other patrol officer. If I were to go back to that, it would be the same. I would continue to make more DUI arrests because I think people’s lives can be totally altered in an instant because someone was drinking and driving. The reality is that people are going to drink and we should manage that so that it doesn’t have a down side for the rest of us, but we shouldn’t try to prohibit it. It just doesn’t work.

It is the same with drugs. I personally haven’t tasted alcohol. I’ve never been drunk. I’ve never done any drugs; never even been tempted to do drugs. You could legalize drugs tomorrow and I still wouldn’t do them. But I think we need to figure out how to help people get through their lives as opposed to just locking them up when they do something that we, as a society, find morally repugnant. We need to save our limited prison dollars for offenders that need to be locked up for a little while in order to make society safer.

STOPDIRECTFILE.ORG: Are kids redeemable and what do you think of the practice of direct file from a policy perspective?

SENATOR MORSE: Kids are absolutely redeemable. From a policy perspective, I think there are a couple of problems with direct file. First, direct file gives District Attorneys an awful lot of power. They get to decide whether or not to file [adult charges against kids]. I think that’s too much power to put in the hands of that particular office. Second, I think [the decision to file adult charges is] a matter of statewide concern, especially because the rest of us are going to have to pay for charging, trying and holding that person, in some cases, for the rest of their lives. Why are we leaving that up to an individual District Attorney who was only elected by 1/23 of the population when all of us are going to have to bear the cost? Direct file needs to be looked at very, very carefully. We also need to intervene early and often to make sure that kids don’t get into that situation.

STOPDIRECTFILE.ORG: Do you agree with Justice Clarence Thomas that state legislatures need to take up the issue of life sentences for kids?

SENATOR MORSE: I agree that state legislatures [should take up the issue of life sentences for kids]. I think we need to look very carefully at what we’re accomplishing. As a society, we have this idea that if we’re very tough on crime, criminals will recognize that and stop committing crimes and we’ll all live happily ever after. There isn’t a shred of evidence to support that theory and yet we’ve clung to it tenaciously for the last 25 years. So let’s stop, figure out what works and start implementing that. Let’s be careful about giving up on any human being, but especially children.  What I don’t think society gets is that we really only throw away 3% of [offenders]. The other 97% we put away for awhile and then they come back. What are they going to do when they come back? Are they going to be able to get jobs, provide for their families and become good taxpayers? No, they’re not because we make it darn near impossible. We say, ‘you can’t live here, you can’t work here, you can’t associate with these people and don’t forget to pay all your fees on time or we’ll put you back.’ We have to stop being just tough on crime and start being really, really, smart on crime.

June 28, 2010

Restorative Justice Symposium: Healing through Communication


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The Beth-El Mennonite Church in Colorado Springs will host a restorative justice symposium Thursday and Friday September 24th through the 25th. This important event is sponsored by the El Paso County Bar Association, the 4th Judicial District, and the Colorado Springs School District among others. According to the Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Council, the purpose of restorative justice is “to enable victims, offenders and the community to repair harms and restore relationships.”

Many juvenile offenders, including some who are being held in prison for life, did not intend the level of harm they may have caused. Restorative justice recognizes that, regardless of intent and harm, healing the community, victims and the offender are worthy objectives. When a crime is committed, the community is harmed, victims are traumatized and offenders may simply be abandoned to a “corrections system” that fails to correct anything at all. sees restorative justice as an important step toward rehabilitating young offenders. According to Don Quick, District Attorney for the 17th Judicial District, “society’s number one responsibility” when a child commits homicide “is to make sure that kid doesn’t kill again.” There are many different types of homicide from manslaughter to circumstantial (felony) murder. Most often, it is not a child’s intent to commit homicide and yet children are tried as adults when a death occurs almost without question. As a society we can keep a child from killing again by putting them in cold storage for the rest of their lives. But that strictly punitive approach ignores–at enormous community expense–society’s responsibility to both the victim and the offender. Restorative Justice, on the other hand, treats both offenders and victims on a case-by-case basis.

According to one victim, restorative justice had enormously positive effects: “My family and I were able to see remorse and pain from the responsible party who killed my son [] in an alcohol and speeding related accident. Because of this, we were able to forgive him and exchange hugs and tears. We feel we now have the strength to heal and carry on [our son's] legacy along with many awesome memories.”

As stated in several previous blogs, supports “comprehensive sentence reform that provides appropriate community protections by removing juvenile offenders from society (until they are no longer a threat); provides victims with a sense of security and justice (not revenge); and gives juvenile offenders an opportunity for rehabilitation (not cold storage).” feels that restorative justice is the all-important first step toward a child’s rehabilitation and we strongly endorse the Pikes Peak Restorative Justice Symposium.

For more information or to sign up for the symposium please visit the symposium page at or call (719) 640-1650. Space is limited so register today.

February 23, 2010

So much for leadership…so long to juvenile justice


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Do you remember the scene at the end of “Wyatt Earp” where Kevin Costner holds off a lynch mob intent on stringing up a cowboy accused of murder? Me too. What I like about that scene is that it portrays a lawman who cared more for justice than he did for his own skin. He was willing to die to uphold justice. Holding off a mob would have taken some guts, but more importantly it took leadership.

The problem with the justice system in Colorado (and the nation) today is enshrined right there in the mission statements of half of the District Attorneys in the state. At the DA is charged with both “pursuing justice” and “hold[ing] the trust and respect of the citizens.” Here’s the problem folks: You can’t do both! Either the DA is a politician (nothing like Wyatt Earp) or he’s a lawman. More often than not, DAs choose to be politicians first. They’d rather “pursue” justice and fail than disappoint the mob.

I suspect that’s what has happened with the recent release of the Obama Administration’s Budget for the Department of Justice. According to a newly released report from the Justice Policy Institute, the President has completely abdicated leadership on juvenile justice issues–reducing juvenile justice and delinquency prevention funding by $133 million for FY2011. According to the report, the likely result will be:

… [less] money spent on prevention, and in innovative programs that rely less on incarceration, [which] may result in reduced public safety, more justice-involved youth, increasing racial disparities and diminished life outcomes for [...] youth [that] will impact not just themselves and their families but the health and well-being of communities and the nation as a whole.

In a nutshell: We’re sacrificing long-term solutions for short-term results that will put more kids in adult prisons and turn them into life-long criminals. DAs love this scenario because it means they’ll see half of the children they put in prison again. And the federal government has made it clear: THAT MEANS MORE FUNDING. The cycle will repeat over and over again until we put DAs in their place and let judges do their jobs.

So I’ll say it one more time, “so much for leadership; so long to justice.” We’re quickly becoming a country that prefers mob rule and political imprisonment to “separation of powers” and “justice for all.”

January 7, 2010

Stop this Sickness


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Rape as Rehabilitation?


As the story by Lovisa Stannow in the Huffington Post proves, children incarcerated as adults are raped, and then raped again; often times by the Corrections Officers who are supposed to protect them. Given that, more often than not, it is physical and sexual abuse that drove these troubled children to violence in the first place, one has to wonder if the justice system in this country thinks that rape is the rehabilitation these children need.  What kind of sick logic is it that could think that?    This story is just more evidence that the purpose of our prison system is not to rehabilitate the wayward, as is claimed, but rather is to exact revenge of a most sickening kind.  This needs to stop, immediately. When are DA’s going to wake up to the fact that children, no matter how heinous their actions, are not monsters?  When are we, as a society, going to demand that children be protected from violence, and not forced into it in the name of “justice” and “rehabilitation?”