• Miracle at Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution Forest

    Cindy SanfordJuan (name changed), convicted of aggravated assault at 21, has been in solitary for five years. He has seen and experienced it all: brutal cell extractions, hunger strikes, flooded pods and endless hours spent screaming at his cell door.

    By the time I met him, he’d racked up over 80 misconducts in numerous prisons and earned the enmity of most of the officers forced to deal with him. Hardly your model inmate.

    Yet from our very first visit, I was struck by the humility and sadness in his eyes. Somehow, despite his “bad-boy” reputation, I sensed there was more to him, something worth saving.

    Unfortunately, that was not an opinion shared by the officers at State Correctional Institution (SCI) Camp Hill. While corrections officers now receive some mental health training, most still have a mind-set geared toward control and punishment, not mental health care. So it was probably inevitable, given Juan’s conduct, that he would have a rough road in prison and numerous conflicts with staff.

    But I am a registered nurse, not a corrections officer. My training never presumed that harsh punishment was the best cure for behavior disorders. A few months after I met Juan, he sent me his medical records, which were a depressing read to say the least.

    Addicted to crack at birth, a victim of severe child abuse and neglect, four suicide attempts as a teen, multiple mental health hospitalizations and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. If that weren’t enough strikes against him, an MRI of his head revealed mild brain damage, presumed to be the result of a beating by his parents. In my view, this was a kid who never had a chance.

    “Do you have any contacts or support on the outside?” I asked during that first visit.

    Juan looked down but not before his eyes clouded over. “No.”

    “Not even a friend — or some other relative?”

    “No. There’s nobody,” he said quietly.

    I smiled reassuringly, hoping it conveyed the right amount of support without leaving the impression I felt sorry for him. But it was hard not to. Far too many young people, seriously abused and neglected as kids, end up right where he is.

    Some enforcement types refer to people like me as “hug a thugs.” I know how they think because I used to be one of them. My grandfather was a New York City police officer. My husband is a retired wildlife conservation officer.

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  • 8 things judges need to know about teen dating violence


    By the Hon. Marshall Murray
    Judge of the Circuit Court of Milwaukee
    Member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges

    One of the most important duties for any court system is to ensure that youth in the community are protected. As the former Presiding Judge of the Milwaukee Children’s Court and Presiding Judge of the Milwaukee County Domestic Violence Courts, I have seen many young people who were survivors of teen dating violence. They included children who were both male and female, heterosexual and LGBTQ, and from every ethnic background imaginable. It was, and is, very sad to me that while these children are supposed to be focusing on the challenge of adolescence, they were instead grappling with the violence caused by their partners. (Throughout this article the pronoun “she” is used, although victims of teen dating violence can be both male and female. As with adult domestic violence, teen dating violence is a gendered phenomenon and there is a substantial overrepresentation of young teen girls who are victims of dating violence.)

    This February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness month, and the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) will be highlighting the importance of youth victimized through dating violence. As a judge and a parent, it’s difficult for me to imagine that one in three girls that I saw in my court were likely to be physically, emotionally or verbally abused, according to a National Council on Crime and Delinquency report. That number is too high for any community. It is by far the most prevalent form of youth violence. Worse, it is violence experienced by young girls, including tweens, from the ages of 12 to 18.

    One of the hardest tasks I have faced is making decisions in cases that involve victimized youth. I know that judges around the country (many of whom are parents) also are deeply concerned about making the right decision in cases that involve teen survivors. These are tough issues for any judge to handle by themselves. That’s why NCJFCJ and I put together this article entitled 8 Things Every Judge Should Know about Teen Dating Violence. It’s certainly not everything you may need to know, but it’s a start. Every week this February, we will be posting a different article on a teen dating violence topic, including social media, native youth, LGBTQ issues and community collaboration. We hope you find this blog series helpful, and if you are interested in what you read, and want to learn more, please feel free to reach out.

    1. Don’t treat teen survivors like adult survivors.

    Teens are not “young adults” in any sense of the word. In fact that term is a misconception which harkens back to well before the 19th century when children were thought of as tiny adults in children’s clothing. Teens and

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