Thursday, May 17, 2012

No Tolerance Policies and VERY Expensive Crackers

I just spent my morning in misdemeanor court with Jimmy, AKA Ben, who on April 17th lost his job as a dishwasher at the University because he stole two packages of crackers.

I have an incredible amount of things that I could say about the "criminal" "justice" system, but I will try to hold back. It's just that a lot of people that I saw today were hardly criminals -- and I'm not really sure what I think about the whole justice thing any more...

Jimmy was hired by the university through a program that works with people with developmental disabilities. He was requested to come there after working there as a high school student, so he waited from June until October, doing nothing, to get that job. He had a job coach. He was doing very well there, worked very hard, and I can imagine that he was one of their best workers, because he certainly is the hardest worker of my 12. He came home very tired, and by the time taxes were taken out he was able to make a whole $218 a week for full time work. Don't even get me started on people who think that the poor are lazy. There is no way that he could live on $218 a week in Mankato. One bedroom apartments start at about $500 a month, not including utilities. So he found the best job he could with his developmental level and he worked very hard full time to make about $1000 a month.. Sorry, I digress.... it's just that people have a very wrong perception of what it is like to be uneducated or to have delays that are significant to keep you from a higher paying job, but not significant to qualify for SSI...

So, here's what happened. Someone at work started suspecting that Jimmy was stealing little things from the on campus convenience store in the building where he did dishes. They didn't talk to Jimmy. They didn't talk to his job coach. What they did was assign someone to watch him and catch him doing it. He figured he wasn't getting caught so he kept doing it. I know him well and I guarantee you that with ONE warning he would have stopped. If we had known, or his job coach, or if his boss would have reminded him that there was a no tolerance policy there and that if he got caught stealing he would lose his job, Jimmy would have stopped.

But nobody talked to him. Or to us. Or to his job coach. And suddenly he found himself in handcuffs after grabbing two packages of peanut butter sandwich crackers. He was immediately fired. He lost his job, got ticketed, and was left with no time before we moved to get another job.

So, that takes us today when he finally had a court appearance a month later. We got there at 8, court was at 8:15 -- court for Jimmy and about 40 other people who had misdemeanor charges. We filled out a form in a room. I explained to Jimmy what to tell the court clerk -- that he had already been through the diversion program as a minor. But he didn't tell them that. SO they sent us to talk to someone about the diversion program. That took us until about 9:15.

The diversion person immediately told him that he didn't qualify for the diversion program and why. Then she explained to him how wrong what he did is. She asked him why he did it. He has no clue. He couldn't answer that question. To this day he has no idea why -- other than he didn't have any money with him and he wanted a snack. So finally she tells him he is going to be charged with a petty misdemeanor (ya think?) and that he has to appear before the judge. We are escorted to another courtroom.

When we get there we had to listen to three or four cases before us. The judge handled them very well -- I appreciate her concern and her style. But there were so many societal issues that were represented in those four cases that I couldn't believe it: Racial profiling, homelessness, teenage brain development issues, mental illness... the list was long and I was only there for thirty minutes.

End result -- Jimmy stood before the judge for 3 minutes. She asked him what he did. He told her he stole two packages of crackers. She didn't bother to ask him why. She fined him $277 dollars, we paid it and came home.

I charged Jimmy for my time this morning -- the amount I would have made had I been at my desk.

I told him I hoped they were really good crackers. He told me that he never got to eat them because they took them away from him.

He says he has learned his lesson. I really hope he did.

I see this from both sides, I really do and I'm sure that a few of you will have different opinions than I on this subject. But I really think that in many, many situations our traditional judicial system is not serving the population of people out there whose brains do not function properly. Jimmy experienced quite a bit of trauma as a toddler and his brain is just wired differently than other peoples. He's not going to wake up some day and "get it."

Sigh -- OK, let me have it.

14 comments:

Other Mother said...

The only thing you're going to get from me is a big "Amen." Sheesh - if it's not one thing it's another. When our kids were little we thought there were problems, but bigger kids have bigger problems.

I'm so thankful 12 kids have you and Bart for parents. Their lives could be much worse.

Melissa said...

I think you make an excellent point; the justice system should not be a "one size fits all" system. Also, getting fined almost $300 for crackers, and not being talked to about anything.....that's not cool at all. We want people with challenges to contribute to society, we need to make some big time adjustments to the way we deal with them. I'm sorry (and mad!) that no one talked to him.

Jen said...

Let you have what?

I wrote a post recently (or maybe it was a comment in another blog) about the fine line between protecting our children because of their abilities and backgrounds, and enabling them ...

It is a very fine line sometimes, but our instincts are usually correct about what our kids are incapable of learning and what should be expected of them. It is horrendous that life will bring them so many challenges that they are not going to be able to handle the way society expects them to. And many of these kids will not learn by being punished in the judicial system. Then their lives, their chances at becoming their best selves, are ruined.

I am terrified about going through this with my kids. It is already beginning for my oldest, and he is 14.

I agree, Jimmy should have been under the protection of his job coach. He should have been given a fair chance to learn the expectations of the job. It is very sad that his employer viewed him as a criminal instead of a hungry boy without resources.

Jane said...

We worry about the same thing with Toots. With her low frustration tolerance, she can talk all she wants about getting a job, but we really have difficulty imagining her following workplace rules.

Hope other things go well for you today.

Kelley said...

I think you put that great! The only thing I'm going to let you have is a virtual hug. Blessings to you.

FerJeniB said...

C - Sending you a virtual high five and my complete agreement. :) - J

Lee said...

It is maddening that he had a job coach and his disability was known and he was handled as if he were totally normal and had done grand theft!

StaN said...

What would be a better way to handle the situation? What could his boss/job coach/etc have done differently? It sounds like jimmy knew he was stealing crackers...

Claudia said...

Good question Stan. All I think that should have been done differently is that the boss should have let the job coach know that he was being suspected of stealing so that he could have been confronted the first time he had done it. I had thought that is what the program was for -- to be able to step in before things got to a "fireable" level.

Let me be clear: I'm not saying that Jimmy should have been given an exception. He knows stealing is wrong. He's been told thousands of times. But he is impulsive and doesn't think things through. Having a lecture from someone at the courthouse isn't going to change things if he is impulsive.

But until we have something different for a system, Zero Tolerance Policies won't serve this population well.

dawgtrainer1998 said...

StaN is a big meanie.

Cyndi said...

and if he functioned at a level where he could qualify for SSI they would take away one $ for every one $ earned so there is still no way for them to make things work out. As for justice there are just times when all of that is wasted on these silly situations and no one gains anything from it in the end.

Miz Kizzle said...

You have good reason to be concerned about our justice system. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws make it possible for those convicted of viewing nude pictures of persons under 18 online to be sentenced to 20 years in federal prison and be forced to register as sex offenders for life.
Compare that to an average four years behind bars for someone who molests someone.
In other words, looking at images online is considered worse than raping a child.
Add the fact that the internet is full of links to sexually explicit material that so-called parental control software doesn't always filter out and you have a nation of young men at risk.
Our federal prisons house 2 million people, many of them young men like your son who are punished much too harshly for having committed nonviolent crimes. The expense of the prison system is staggering and yet politicians who boast about being "tough on crime" keep getting re-elected.
It's time to look behind the jargon and the scare tactics and see our criminal justice system for the sham that it is.

Tubaville Quilts said...

In our district, we started a restorative justice program that works with first time offenders. Community volunteers work with the victim and the offender through a restorative circle process. It takes a long time, 6mo to a year, but we have had no recidivism from program graduates. The problem with this is that it takes a community effort. You know, we have to, like, care and stuff. In other words, we have a hard time getting volunteers but it is an amazing process for all involved. As a community volunteer, I feel like it is therapeutic for everyone involved, not just the victim and offender. I wish we could get more church communities involved.

Lulu McCabe said...

Ah yes, the petty misdemeanor world! We just finished ONE FULL YEAR of going to court (ten hearings) to resolve ONE petty misdemeanor charge. I could go on and on, but you've already said it. I'll just add one thing for anyone in a similar situation: we found that having the parent or parents present in court for every hearing no matter how small makes a big difference. I was shocked, during all the hours spent in those waiting rooms, how many kids in similar predicaments were alone in court. The juvenile public defender system in our city is a cruel joke, so if a kid is there at court without a parent or other advocate, he's really on his own. What's more, it's hard for ME to follow what's going on in court, as they spend about two minutes per case and it moves very fast, with a lot of jargon - so imagine how confusing it is for a kid with disabilities! Just by showing up, you make a huge difference, and I believe the court takes greater care to consider the child's circumstances and respond appropriately when there are parents in the room that they know might raise high holy hell. :)