Judge Lisa Richette, author of "The Throwaway Children", speaking on children's rights at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.
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If any of you were thinking that I don't look like a judge then your sexual stereotyping is showing. I'm very delighted to be here. It's it's really very heartwarming and encouraging to know that an educational institution of this caliber would go about funding and orchestrating a Humanities conference that would be involved. With so many collected and so forgotten a human subject as Justice for children. It's true that I want to be a law school. I just want to for winning in the entire school. I wasn't a token. I was invisible. And because women law students and other professional students at Yale, we're not permitted to live in those grand dormitories is Neo Gothic palaces with hot and cold running Butler's in fireplaces. But instead were consigned to its rasti and he is rooming house that embodied every single housing code violation in the City of New Haven. And it was very dehumanizing and difficult to live in this case. I decided that if I was going to survive as a human being I would have to remove being impoverished. I thought it would be a really magnificent if I could get a job that also gave me housing. So I looked in the newspaper and saw an advertisement. It said Cottage parent. And I really only saw the word Cottage editions of Rose Vines and Ivy trellises and all the rest and I applied for this job. And it was a very large gray institution call the Children's Center of Hamden, Connecticut. And they were so eager to have me as a cottage parent for these kinds of persons who will work in these kinds of jobs are very hard to come by. They seized upon me a warm living young body hired me on the spot and there I was a first-year law student in charge of 13 children variously labeled is emotionally disturbed delinquent neglected abused a prod sociopathic Psychopathic every single label you can think of has been attached to their young backs. 13 children between the ages of 6 and 11 all of them were there against their will All of him were there for the purpose of being quote treated on quote. And there I stayed for three years. and that was a far deeper and better education and not only human processes, but also in the ways of justice that anything I learned at the Yale Law School. 4 in the 50s in America these children were totally forgotten there was not one single mention. in my constitutional law course in my criminal record in my family though course about what happened to children who became ensnared in a legal person sees they were forgotten and if in fact the subject ever was raised It was dismissed as a social welfare problem that was being very adequately taken care of by Claude social workers unquote and a few kindly juvenile court judges scattered hither and Yon. This comfortable cosmetic facade that had been painted over one of the ugliest realities in American Life. lasted and it's been here like Perfection for nearly two more decades, and it was not until The case of a young boy not from a large metropolitan area. Not one of those countless. poor children born of racial and National groups traditionally deemed inferior. No, not one of those but a white nearly middle-class boy from a small city in Arizona called Sun City not until that case. Finally was considered to be heard by the United States Supreme Court. Did the legal journals did the legal case books did in fact the entire legal establishment of America decide to really look honestly. At the whole topic of justice for children. I'm a bibliophile and I wander around an airport and I had Apple time today to wander for I had to have several layovers in my flight from Philadelphia. And in one of the airport's I found this book which is called growing up clean in America and anything that involves. Growing up clean interest me very much. But the subtitle was what intrigued me it says a guy to the legal complexities of being a young American how to keep your record clean in a confusing age. And then I saw the introduction to this book was written by Ramsey Clark who nearly made it to the United States Senate from New York and who is a very good friend. And so I decided to to purchase it and I have been reading it and sit. Arts and stops throughout the course of this day, but this is a book written by a young lawyer for adolescents and young persons who may be caught in the toils of the law and I would simply like to read you a very brief section. For your consideration before I get into the main theme of what I would like to discuss with you this evening. This is traffic to where it's at Law Society and lawyers. Society's official rules are called laws. They are neither logical or scientific. They're not rich rational or capable of being applied fairly. They usually lag behind the human situation still Walter what we have to work with and with a greater understanding of them we can use them better in a recent law Day message the American Bar Association Proclaim that Society is ruled by the ABA to the contrary notwithstanding a few years and active practice convinces. Most of the opposite law is ruled by people. Rules come from the top of the Heap and weigh heaviest on those at the bottom when it's safe and useful their broken or stretch. They helped some to get what there's not enough to go around and to keep what they've managed to get their change only long after they have actively broken down. This is not good. It just is occasionally the bottom becomes angry or goes mad. Then in the long run. The old scene get replayed with different rules subject to the same manipulation and perhaps with different actors using the same script even out of where is we are all plugged into each other playing the law game. It's feature is that everyone plays together we act in concert and costume in rolls at clients lawyer judges the public and a bubble each as a writer of his own special hobby horse. Rotherham rather cynical description of a legal system to present to the young people but unfortunately, I think it has. the staff and ring of Truth and young people who are caught in this Machinery are very well aware of the kind of game that that is played we start with a proposition. And I'm going to say some provocative things which I hope that you will challenge if you honestly disagree with him, but we start with a proposition. That this polarity of big and small of young and adult is one of the oldest polarities in human civilization and we start then with the proposition that children are the last legal slaves. And I use that word very advisedly mindful that the 13th amendment has prohibited the institution of slavery and involuntary servitude and peonage and all the rest. It is not an imprecise historical analogy for when the laws governing the relationship between master and slave were formulated in this country. The model that was used was the common role model that dealt with the rights of women and children. And it was these legal principles that were used to be fine. The relationships between Masters and slaves. I say the children or the last legal slaves for we are still operating within a legal system that regards children as chattel as human property belonging either to their biological or legal parents. Or if those parents are through some process declared inadequate or are non-existent by virtue of death or abandonment. Then these children become the ward and property of the state usually through the administrative mechanism of some bureaucratic division of that state. So that a child is never free a child is never truly perceived as a full person with inherent human dignity and therefore with inherent human values rights and responsibilities. We will not abandon easily this notion of the child as chattel. 4 reasons the deal of course with with psychology Psychiatry with human motivations and all the rest there. Is this proprietary Instinct on the part of parents, but a bubble, I think we are very much involved with the child as property for the child becomes an Exquisite scapegoating mechanism for the ills and your responsibilities of the adult world. I heard recently give a lecture which was entitled. Why do we hate children? And he reminded us all of a very profound thing that the Carl Young Ones dead. And that is that whenever we seek to punish. Or to expose something within a child. It is very important for us to look within ourselves for very often what we are most sensitive to in children represents some unresolved area of conflict of ambivalence within ourselves. What have you That is a psychological explanation for the reason the children are chattel. There are of course economic explanations children are in our present-day Society non-productive economic units. It was quite different in an era when children could work children could contribute to the well-being and Wells of the household or a community today, we have put children in to wait for a long. Of inactivity of enforced leisure. Which coincides with perhaps the peak. Of energy level in human development and I'm talkin about adolescence. And yet we have relegated them to a limbo like existence in which they are to act out certain very carefully defined roles in the most carefully defined role for for the child is universally that of a student. I recall I once asked my class A very simple question. I said I ask what is the role of a student? And in a law school and one student raised her hand and said the role of the student is to be paranoid. And without realizing what a profound truth she had uttered. She she smiled and and sat back and then we prove that for about an hour. And what that really means you see is that you are a part of a very large overall establishment that is constantly having you in that is throwing rules regulations materials at you and that the average human response to this kind of of structuring of existence is a form of a paranoia and any of you who are teachers you have recognized immediately that job that student had had said something quite appropriate but we're all definitions for children are very rigid. And they extend far beyond that Dreadful Victoria maximum. The children should be seen and not heard. We have a whole series of concepts of what is right. What is normal? What is what is what is good for for children and Within These roll definitions, of course, we have sexual differentiation, which are equally rigid what girl children shall do and what boy children and very often the kinds of of behaviors which are regarded as not only normal but desirable in boys represent in terms of social response, very unconventional and even delinquent tax if they are performed by girls, and I'm thinking particularly of the whole area of sexual experimentation, which is considered an American cultural rite of passage. For you know, the young Macho Man of the community yet. Most of the girls who come into juvenile court are looked upon as deviant as abnormal for engaging in the kind of sexual experimentation that is deemed to be normal for boys. And of course a corollary of this which does resulting I consider to be a gross denial of equal protection of the laws. Is that the men? Excuse me? I should say the boys and all sometimes even the man that's true or not brought in but the boys who let us say impregnate a girl. Do not suffer either the social stigma or the legal consequences of the kind of sexual behavior that is evident in girls. So these rules are very very carefully Define and then we come to class differentials which play a very important role and my face is here. Is that a greater degree of latitude is given to middle and upper-class children in this society that is given to poor children. There is an enormous amount of pilfering and Steph and drinking and larceny and all the rest that goes on even at America's most fashionable for paratore schools. I know because I have a child goes to what? And I would tell you that the behavior in that population is not significantly different than very much that goes on. Let us say in a Philadelphia ghetto High School. The difference is that there is a wider tolerance for this behavior. And if it gets out of hand, then of course there was always the convenient referral to a psychiatric facility, which is an appropriate response for a middle-class child who is acting out of bounds a lower class child who engages in this kind of behavior does not have this intervening layer of advisors counselors parents therapist Etc to prevent a confrontation with a justice system. He is utterly without this kind of insulation and so immediately this Behavior evokes a totally different response, which is a militaristic response 8th police response a justice system respond and that child is taken to a court and not to a Psychiatric clinic or Dean's office or or whatever other middle class Forum, maybe device that has absolutely no judicial kind of the other parents Hollingshead did a study in New Haven with red look and they discovered this very fascinating phenomenon that identical kinds of behaviors committed by poor children were labeled as criminal and when committed by middle class children were labeled as deviant or ill so the justice system is a system that reflects class racial and sex bias and reflux this not only in his definitional operations, but in his actual processes and so the maximum that is unheard in this book that that long are run by people. It is quite a correct one and therefore that beautiful in size message about the portals of the United States Supreme Court Equal justice under the law must remain a far-off ideal particularly for American children. I would like to say that within all of this this framework there is even a subcategory of children who are even less citizens. Then we're even more I should say non-citizens than most children for they are the children of people who have a very special State and I am referring of course to the Indian children the Indian American children of this country whose lives are unbelievably regimented. Who are taken off and in many cases from their children from their parents at a very early age are sent off to the government-run boarding schools are frequently placed in non-indian foster homes where the very Act of belonging to an Indian family can be construed as defining a condition of neglect which requires intervention all of these separate sets of standards are applied in this kind of a cultural setting so that it is impossible to speak in the abstract about Justice. We must talk about particular context. In which the system operates? The Fourteenth Amendment says that no person may be deprived by a state of the right to life liberty or property without due process of law nor may be denied by that date equal protection of the laws. The key word, of course is person who is a person is the trial a person well until 1967. The laws answer was no he is not a person in terms of right. Yep, we know that children were considered persons for some purposes for we know that very young children are naturalized in very quaint little ceremonies were four year olds weigh the American flag and her that are made American citizens, but what does citizenship reading mean for a child? We who pride ourselves on on being the repository of the greatest values of Western Civilization do well to remind ourselves from time to time that in England in the 18th century when there were over 200 offences which were punishable by hanging. The best percentage of persons hand in English law were under 21 years of age statistics kept show that over 90% of the person tagged were person to would be considered legally to be Miners And there are written records. As late as 1805 of a 7 year old boy who was hanged in England for the crime of stealing a letter from a mailbox a 13 year old boy who was hanged in New Jersey for what would be considered today a simple Act of robbery. Do that. Our system of jurisprudence has not placed a great value. On human rights if the life of a seven-year-old child is less valuable than the owner's right to an intact letter deposited in a mailbox. We have not as a culture very clearly articulated or historically rooted Notions of the value of children. It took almost an entire Century of audit work on the part of many so-called reformers during 19th century America to liberate children from the jail houses from the Lazaretto from the asylums where they were regular he can find and to at least establish the principle that if they were going to be warehoused they were entitled to have their own little juvenile warehouses. And if they were not. So fortunate as to have parents, then we would put them into orphanages. and the dickensian model is not such a remote memory. it is being religion afraid even as we are in this room throughout many portions of this nation and if any of you doubt The truth of this fact, the children are maltreated that they are abused and that they are brutalized orphan at the hands of the state that I refer you all to an opinion. Just written this past August handed down on the 31st of August by a federal district judge for the eastern district of Texas with the absolutely theatrically wonderful name of Judge Justice. A 187 page opinion in a case called Morales vs Furman and merollis is Alicia Morales 14 year old Latino or as they say s s m s s a Spanish surname. Who? Why in the custody of the Texas youth commission which is one of these bureaucratic solutions to the Juvenile Justice problem, you know, you create a commission which is going to process all these kids and rehabilitate them and treat them. I asked you all as a matter of discipline to Steel yourselves and just sit down and read that 187 page opinions. It will tell you how boys and girls caught up in the justice system in Texas needs are mainly black children. Mainly latino children. How they were treated in these various institutions the court and out closed down two of these institutions and issued the strictest possible kinds of monitoring devices for the Texas youth commission practically restructured the entire intake department and set forth a whole continuing playing the supervision for the justice system on the grounds that these children had been denied V 1/6 49th amendment rights. many of these children in the years after gold or sand off to institutions without even a juvenile court hearing that's that's just one very large American State, Texas. And of course this case will be appealed. The other case that I refer you all to is a case of Wyatt vs. Stickney. And this isn't Alabama case. Stickney is the physician who is in charge of all the children services for the state of Alabama. And why it is Ricky Wyatt a 12 year old boy who was found to be mentally defective and was therefore committed to an institution called Portland one of these huge warehouses for poor children. And the conditions that are described in that opinion by chief judge Johnson of that District are also unspeakables. Do not read either case after you've had a very good meal. If not, this kind of reading is not very conducive to digestion. But it's the truth that has been very largely hidden. from public View and it is something that all of us have to confront Peter schrag in a recent issue in the in the New York Review of Books on the juvenile justice system in on the condition of children's rights in this country describe this system as America's greatest National Disgrace. I do not consider that to be a hyperbolic statement. I think that's that's quite true that and the other prison system, but I would say the justice system is even more shocking for at least in the adult prison system. We unabashedly say that the primary function is punishment and the secondary by-product is Rehabilitation a very very difficult coupling that never quite comes off but in the juvenile system are thesis is that the whole thing is Rehabilitation and yet in the words of the former Justice fortas who wrote the majority opinion in the golf case, which was handed down on the 15th of May of 1967. Children have often received the worst of Both Worlds. They have neither had the due process safeguards that adults have at least in a criminal trial nor have they received the rehabilitation that had been promised to them. Orphans and criminals and these two labels persist and provide the justice system. What would you think? of an adult justice system that defined what the rights are. of a citizen of a country in the law that set up the judicial system. What would you think of that? If you wanted to find out what your legal rights were that you would be referred to the law that establishes better save United States Supreme Court, you could only find out what your legal rights were by pricking out from the law what that cord could or could not do to you. Weather in Alice in Wonderland Arrangement, isn't it? But that's precisely where children's rights are at this moment. For we do not have a separately defined Bill of Rights for children. If you want to find out. What the rights of children are you have to go and read? The juvenile court laws of each state and a very very widely from state to state for we do not have Federal legislation in this field. This is the largest minority group in America that it is at the moment unshielded and unprotected by unified Federal legislation with all that that implies children are not part of any civil rights legislation that has yet been passed. Women of course got in by a great legislative fluke a southern send it or. Up and proposed this sex be added to title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He thought this would Surety guarantee. It's Nvidia two feet on the senate floor to his horror it past and now we have sexual discrimination as a prohibited practice. But no Senator no representative has stood up and decided to add age as another prohibited form of discrimination. So there is absolutely no federal legislation in this field except in those famous or inFAMOUS guidelines that are set down by h e w that are Costco ask the change from month to month and day today and week-to-week and are absolutely illegible for most people. I think even their authors are hard put to it sometimes interpret them, but we don't have a body of a law. The Ted these are the rights of children. It is for this reason that children can be flogged can be placed in solitary confinement can be Shackled. can be kept from communication with their own families can be lied to can be subjected. 2 shock treatment the psychological manipulation known as behavior modification and everything else. For there are no no principles that I obtained in this field. We have cliches that are elevated to the status of Concepts and you will know the cliches and I don't have to stand here and repeat them to you everything that happens is always in the best interest of the child. This is the rationalization for for upholding whatever bureaucratic or or judicial action that is taken. It's always in the best interest of the child and then of course, we are further Shield from the realization of what we are actually doing two children by a superb wall of jargon, which has been created by the so-called Professionals in the field. It's kind of tinkering approach which had the obsessed people since the gold decision doesn't really represent a and honest effort to secure Justice for children nor am I impressed that laws which nearly make reporting of child abuse cases mandatory and protect those people who make these reports from the possibility of arrest in all the rest. I don't think that really does very much. in terms of helping the children who are the victims of child abuse or helping those parents who are abusers. But let's think what it would mean if we were all committed to the concept the children were really persons. And not somebody's property. It would mean of course, first of all that you just couldn't pick a child up and move that child around even if you had all the court orders in the world. It would mean that before you did anything the change that child situation that child would be entitled to a due process hearing. And you can't have a due process hearing without giving that child the right to counsel. Another gold case just meant one thing it meant the children who were charged with delinquent acts for which they could be in prison that these children could have lawyers. The court has not yet sit weather dependent abuse neglected children are also entitled to lawyers and I can tell you that children who are involved in custody proceedings unless there is a state statute that entitles them to cancel or not as a matter of constitutional law and title to lawyers a lesson that I learned very bitterly when I represented three children who were trying very hard To get access to your father against the wishes of their mother and the Court ruled that I could not represent these children that they had to be represented by their mother's attorney, but they were not entitled to an attorney of their own choice. And when I appealed this on a 1983 basis and let me explain to you that 1983 is section 1983 of 42 u.s. Code, which is a section of the code that enforces the Civil Rights provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment and a jive. I was talking to recently made a very excellent clip. He said the section 1983 is the American lawyers tool for for Sterling Orwell's 1984. And that's absolutely true whenever something horrendous happens. Some great Injustice is going on. Dauntless courageous lawyer is running down to a federal district court and filing a 1983 action 1983 action. They couldn't have a lawyer. Couldn't be heard and here was a court trying to make a custody ruling that was in their best interest and they couldn't be heard. And I was dismissed out of court without a real hearing on the fax motion to dismiss was sustained and the court of appeals for the third circuit upheld that ruling and that is the law. Unless of state and ask this specific legislation a child has no constitutional right to a lawyer in a custody suit or anything collector dependency action movies great cousins has to be filled in by legislation and not the kind of tinkering legislation. But some solid legislation that defines very clearly. What are the rights of children? So a child can be passed about from parent to parent. Can even be abducted taken to another state? Buy a social worker. Buy a parent buy a relative and that's why I will not have someone in court to speak for that child. If things get very sticky and he is so misfortunate as to be born and to live with hearing to either drink or have psychiatric problems or neglectful. The state does not help this child at the moment by helping his parents. He is often held a hostage. Take it away and kept by the state until his parents Shape Up According to some kind of standard and he then becomes a ward of the state that I submit to you can only happen to a non person. For only a thing. I belong to another thing people belong to people. At how can a child be awarded the Department of Welfare. It makes as much sense as making a child award at the street department the highway department stuff Fire Department. I think about this. I'm not being sis teaches. I know that I'm touching on some, you know, enormously gleaming white sacred cows for this is a very carefully protected kind of right on the part of the Social Service professionals the right to to have the wardship of children. What does that really mean? I have in my court some fairly intelligent psychiatrist. Who works and and whom do a very honest kind of job but who are so absolutely themselves brainwashed by the importance and value of labeling that when they can think of nothing else to say about a child. Their diagnosis is adjustment reaction of adolescence. What is that mean a rose is a rose is a rose. Oh, and then the greatest one that I like very much that I run into in the Adelaide Court when nothing else can be stated with authenticity. Gary comes schizophrenic in remission. I have concluded that we are all schizophrenics in remission. I have challenged these doctors to Define for me how they can tell that is schizophrenic is in remission. Is mind-boggling. It's also mindless. And a great deal of what we do in our Justice systems is permeated with Vine less Ness. and if we just stop and think Think about this boy. Are we labeling for his convenience. Is it is it for the child? No clearly not. It's our convenience. It's for the labeler and not the label e And very often I think that the Justice systems are Run for the benefit of the bureaucrats and the people who work in them. And now or ever re-evaluated critically to see you. Is this really doing something for children? This is really doing something for for human beings Eugene McCarthy one said the doctors acted as though illness had been invented for their benefit. And I would like to paraphrase that by saying that I think that many of us act as though delinquent dependent and neglected children were invented for our benefit. so the labeling syndrome is is a very serious one. I would like to also address myself to to another propensity that it is very strong and the justice system. Which I think. is it the labeling system gone awry and that is this this obsession with the with dossier keeping and memorandum writing as a as a way of ensuring some sort of professional Integrity to our little Mechanisms the classic example that I can give you a Bist is of a case that occurred in Philadelphia just a few months ago. where a seven-year-old child who weighed exactly 34 lb was seen by a school crossing guard foraging for garbage and a trash can And when she went up to this Apparition this race the skeleton. And ask his child why he was looking in that trash can the child said he was hungry school crossing guard both came home and they are found a house full of bees race presided over by a tormented and obviously overwhelmed woman. Who said I need help. And I need help real fast and the school crossing guard called our City Department of Welfare and left This Woman's name and address and telephone number. and guess what the City Department of Welfare did They wrote him a letter. So they would be covered if anything ever happened. will something happen that 34 lb child died of starvation and his brothers and sisters were at a point of near death and the Department of Welfare said what we wrote to her. You don't write drowning people letters. And we just can't sit in their offices. Anymore and play out these 925 professional roles. We're desperate people and above all we can't play out our little fantasies of a plane gods and goddesses and therapists and and miniature or or maximized Sigmund. Freud's take your pick. We're not really doing this. This is not what is actually happening. That's our fantasy. What is really going on is that they're just a little handful of us are just a band of people. Who care. In this country not very many people who would come out on a cold night to a conference dealing with children's rights. We are not the vast majority. If This Were a prize fight or a Miss America contest this Auditorium would be jammed standing-room-only People don't get very high Nielsen ratings for this kind of program. The result is course that you never see program. What's the deal with these kinds of issues in Primetime television, maybe on a Sunday morning at 8 a.m. If they run out of programs we're for children were people are killing each other. They might put something like this on. But they're very few of us around who care and we have any Norma's big job to do. We have to redefine. For the people of this country what childhood is all about and we have to elevate. the children of this country to a positions of dignity and value and I'm not talkin about the kind of sentimentality. That is Morlin and cheerful the covers up its guilt. By showering children with useless plastic toys that break upon immediate body contact. I'm talking about a real viable system of values that helps vulnerable children to grow to live to become. What they can be by actualizing their potential. So let us not be content with with small muscle kinds of expansions. Yes. We should revise the statues. We should have limited the obvious Injustice, but let us think very broadly. About the deeper meaning of justice for vulnerable people in this society and it's either be pessimistic or optimistic about it. We should be realistic and realize that it is an ongoing lifetime kind of process that in our own lifetimes. We will not see many of these situations reversed, but we will at least begin To steer this country into a humanistic kind of of posture. We're frightful statistics such as the fact that the lunar litter that we left in the wake of Apollo 13 equal to our entire h e w budget for that year. Such as the fact that we are perfectly ready always to expand our military and defense spending to have 6000 hydrogen bombs when 5 or all that it really takes. To render a crippling blow to any anime. To be sure that the man who sits in the White House is not a man who thinks that hot lunches for children. Are a useless real? And Mister for did vote against hot lunch programs consistently. When he was in the house. And I think it is not inappropriate to regard ourselves very much as the early Christians did. As people who are working very hard to transform a reality. That is grim and hostile to us. And I would just like to end with with something that has always meant a great deal to me this from Saint Paul's first epistle to the Thessalonians. where he writes to the Thessalonians and he says you are all children of the light and Children of the day. We are not of the night nor of Darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, but let us watch and be sober let us who are of the day put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation. And I think that with that breastplate of faith and love. And with the hopes of Salvation not for ourselves, but for our children and our children's children, we can accomplish a great deal. Thank you.