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When Your Career Careens into Realty – A Juvenile Defender’s Thoughts This Father's Day

Most of you know me as the state Juvenile Defender, but I also have two teenage daughters, a rising junior and a freshman respectively. Both have a pretty good understanding of my day job. I get questions like “what happens if I get stopped by the police” or “why didn’t that person go to jail”? And both have shown or displayed interest in what I do: my oldest is taking an advanced “Law and Justice” class next year (!) and my youngest doesn’t miss an opportunity to call out injustices she sees and always tries to protect her friends from bullies and discrimination.

But discussions get more difficult around school shootings.

  • “Do you represent those guys?” Answer: Yes, we represent any youth charged with a crime

  • “Do you know the lawyers that do?” Answer: Yes! Dedicated, patient, and professional lawyers

  • “Why do you think it’s complicated to have police at schools?” Answer:….

The last question in particular can be hard. I think we can all agree that all of our kids should be safe from harm in school. But I have worked on school-to-prison pipeline issues for more than two decades and know the downsides of law enforcement being used primarily as a school disciplinary tool. How can we protect students from external threats while not populating juvenile court with minor offenses, primarily allegedly committed by persons of color? Are these two policy goals mutually exclusive?

I don’t believe that they are. I know there are others who would like to see common-sense solutions to both problems. But it gets harder to start meaningful conversations when two seemingly opposing sides become entrenched without an opportunity to be objective and find a path forward. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is okay to be concerned about safety and be prepared for external threats while advocating that minor disciplinary matters be diverted from the court process. As a parent and a juvenile defender I hope we can see a light ahead because the future isn’t about us, it’s about our children.

Written by, Eric Zogry, State Juvenile Defender. Eric was appointed state Juvenile Defender by the Indigent Defense Services Commission in November 2004 and has served since then.


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