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A glimpse into the juvenile court in Washington DC

Penelope Gibbs
13 Jun 2014

Most children under 18 are seen by the juvenile court in DC.  All court proceedings are closed and unlike in England and Wales, all judges who preside over the juvenile court specialise only in juvenile crime and family cases.  I observed the trial and “sentence” of a boy accused of assault.  As with a District Judge, the case was decided by the judge without jury.  In this case the verdict was guilty, but what to do next was very complicated.  The boy was already subject to an extensive mental health assessment and was recommended for residential treatment.  The challenge for the judge was to persuade his mother to consent to her son being given medication.  It took the judge much patience and determination to persuade the mother that he needed medication to help control his mood, and to facilitate treatment.  I silently cheered when the mother eventually consented, since she evidently cared about her son, and her son needed the help.  In the UK, the situation would be different.  It is the consent of the child not the parent that is required, and there are few options for children for residential mental health treatment, particularly those in the criminal justice system.