Tuesday, August 02, 2005


Albany Regional Youth Detention Center where juveniles await trial or serve time

(This column appeared in the 7-28-05 THE ALBANY (GA.) JOURNAL)

ALBANY — First, they ordered him to dance. Then they hit him in the neck with a brick. Then they slammed him into some lockers. Then they kicked two teeth out of his head. The Jan. 6 [2005] beating of student Trevor Moore, during school hours at Dougherty Comprehensive High School, was so brutal it attracted the attention of the community and prosecutors. But it was not the only violent incident at the school.”

Albany Herald front page, July 10, 2005.

I had a number of reactions to the recent week long series of articles written by Aaron Bensonhaver and Wayne Partridge of The Albany Herald. As a member of the community, I was both outraged and appalled at the horrific stories emanating from Albany’s public high schools and middle schools. As a part time journalist, I noted that the Herald had finally awakened from its slumber and come to the realization that the feature stories appearing in a revitalized The Albany Journal, under Sandy Farkas, and Metro Albany News, under Eddie Byrd, were putting the Herald to shame. Finally, as a lawyer who has spent hundreds of hours representing children in Dougherty County Juvenile Court during the last two years, I was satisfied that the hot light of publicity has been shined on the tragic underpinnings of Albany’s crime problems.

First, a few disclosures and caveats (as we lawyers like to say in our Dog Latin) are in order. My job gives me an insider’s knowledge of many of the pertinent facts in the trials which were highlighted in the Herald’s articles, including the case which led off the series. But morally and ethically, I decided when I started writing for publication that I would not use or abuse my position as attorney to specific clients (as opposed to my role as a general observer of what goes on in the justice system). So I will only go so far as to say, to paraphrase another insider in the justice system, that many of the specific “facts” in the Herald’s reporting on particular trials were wrong, exaggerated, or taken out of context. But I have no wish to quibble over poor reporting on individual cases, as the overall picture is, from my experiences, about as dismal as the Herald articles suggest.

There is no question that children are exposed as early as middle school to gangs and gang activity. I learned what the phrase “beating in” refers to from one of my cases (it’s a rite of initiation where a recruit voluntarily allows gang members to beat him or her- one “beat in” left permanent injuries). I discovered that too many children don’t have even the basic rudiments of what we would consider a conscience. I found that unlike the “Leave it to Beaver” halcyon days of my youth when boys fought and girls didn’t, today’s postpubescent females are increasingly prone to violent acts. I have seen that access to handguns is almost casual among many of our youth. I have observed that sexual activity and promiscuity occur with males and females as young as ten years of age, with 14 and 15 year old mothers and fathers so common as to no longer seem remarkable.

And I found a sure fire formula for increasing our pool of juvenile delinquents: have both parents abandon the child to live with an elderly aunt or grandmother; never read to the child; keep no books in the house; provide no positive strong male role model; allow the child to be truant and to freely roam the streets unsupervised until late at night; have older siblings in jail or prison; and have peers with utterly no respect for learning or civilized behavior. (I seriously doubt violent videos and rap albums are root causes of juvenile crime, the elimination of which will magically solve the problem- they are more likely the echoes, not the causes of violence.)

As a guardian ad litem for children in deprivation cases, I also see a lot of hope out there. Recently I detailed one of my high school interns to list all of the organizations in Albany dedicated to helping disadvantaged youth, everything from the Boys and Girls Clubs, to YO (Youth Opportunity), to Kids Can. I am encouraged by the large number of organizations and people with good hearts and sensible goals. We have an outstanding Juvenile Court Judge, Herbie Solomon, whom I have known since we were both hired to work at Georgia Legal Services here in 1976 by Managing Attorney (now Superior Court Judge) Willie Lockette.

Even the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS), the dreaded welfare people, employs many caseworkers who look at their occupation as more than just a job. When I started as a child advocate in Juvenile Court, I was somewhat suspicious and skeptical of DFCS here in Albany, mostly because of a few bad experiences in prior cases. But after two years and regular exposure in and out of court to caseworkers and their tireless attorney, Paula Taylor Hanington, I have come to respect their efforts and appreciate the fact that they have accomplished a lot of good in specific cases. Even when I disagree with their proposals on specific cases, I do not question their motives.

The true test of our resolve to deal with juvenile crime problems in Albany will be whether or not we end up with band-aids and window dressing or whether we get our public officials (our School Board and City and County Commissions) to buckle down and look for long term solutions. There may not be a magic bullet- but we do know what causes juvenile crime, and we can act to prevent it if we are willing to pull together as a community, decide to seriously deal with the problem, and be willing to invest our efforts and money, starting with children at the earliest ages. More on solutions in later columns.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is true. i've seen it happen. parents not teaching their kids. it happens over and over again.

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I just discovered your blog today. I wonder if you would care to expand on your assertion that "many of the specific “facts” in the Herald’s reporting on particular trials were wrong, exaggerated, or taken out of context" in our series on school crime. It's been almost four months since we published the series, and we have not had anyone identify a single error in the package. If you can identify specific errors, please let us know so we can correct them.


Wayne Partridge
Assistant Managing Editor
The Albany Herald
(229) 888-9347

10:41 AM  

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