Our Experience with the Juvenile Justice System: People Watching at the Arraignment Hearing

Posted September 20, 2012 by

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We have all heard the saying, “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” Not many people like to admit it, but we are all judgmental. We make assumptions by what we see, even if we don’t have the whole story. I found myself recently in this conundrum.

My 12-year-old stepson found himself in trouble with the law back in March. The justice system moves VERY slowly. He scratched cars in the neighborhood because he was angry. It wasn’t until the end of May before we met with an intake officer of the Department of Juvenile Justice. At the beginning of August we were given less than 10 days to appear at an arraignment. It will be another month before the case goes to court. He did it, he admitted it and we are awaiting a meaningful consequence for him. We will be responsible for restitution but we are hoping he will learn something from this experience. I know I do not want to go through this again!

The arraignment was not quick like you see on Law & Order. You go in and sit with other people whose children have committed (in this case) property and injury offenses. You must decide if you want a private lawyer or if you want to apply for the public defender, but you MUST have a lawyer for your juvenile by the time you get to court or the Master will assign you one and a fee to go with it. The process took two hours. Two hours of sitting, waiting in line, and finally, at nearly the two-hour mark, the Master came in, read each child their court date and you were free to go.

There is really nothing to do while you wait except “people watch.” I was shocked at what people chose to wear to court; parents and children alike. Dads had on “wife beater” tank tops. Moms had on their “daisy dukes.” People wore hats, even after being told repeatedly by the bailiff to remove all hats. Children wore pants down around their thighs with their boxer shorts covering their rear ends. There were so many people wearing jeans or shorts, low-cut tops and short skirts. The bailiff told us that this particular Master does not like to hear any noise in his courtroom. He told us to turn our cell phones completely off, not to leave them on vibrate. I cannot tell you how many times cell phones rang during that two hour period.

So, this whole time I am sitting there looking at these parents who are showing these poor examples to their children and lack of respect to the court. As a parent, I think that role modeling for our kids is one the most important things we can do. Sitting in court that day, I couldn’t help but think, “The apple does not fall far from the tree.” One assumes a child’s behavior is learned by the example a parent sets. Yet, here I was, with a child who violated other people’s property. It did not matter that we were dressed appropriately or that my stepson had on nice pants and a dress shirt. We do our best to set a good example. It’s no guarantee that your kids will do the right thing all the time, but it helps to show them what kind of behavior is expected in your house.

How important do you think it is to role model appropriate, respectful behavior?


I am a mom of two boys, ages 16 and 22, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. I have remarried and my husband has 2 boys, ages 13 and 16. The 13 year old lives with us, and has some behavioral problems and attachment issues. There is always something happening at our house!

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  1. Joan C (Edit) Report

    I think role modeling is the most important thing we do as parents outside of loving our kids unconditionally. Children absorb much more deeply things when we walk our talk–not just talk it. When you can see the parent dressed and/or talking disrespectful then there is some validity in the adage, “the apple doesn’t fall far” because an apple comes from an apple tree.

    That said, I have been in the position of being judged unfairly as the bad “tree” when my daughter got into drugs; my son/grandson’s birth father also had problems with anger and alcohol. My grandson, now 20, was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress at age four and he was cutting and suicidal in high school as actions of his birth parents kept impacting him.

    Many times in grocery stores, or elsewhere, when he was disrespectful, screaming, or wearing obnoxious clothes I’m sure people wondered why I didn’t control him. What they didn’t see was how bad it was in private and how much he improved and all the lines I did draw, the toe-to-toe battles we did fight and…his progress.

    “You do not have to love me, but as your parent you need to show me respect,” was a mantra I said daily times many. I modeled good dress, attitude and behavior (okay a few goofs but generally not bad). We were blessed with good teachers, coaches, and other adult role models that we deliberately exposed him to through his interests, his choices that reinforced my husband and my values. Today he is a well-adjusted junior in college and we just wrote the book Addiction & Families: A Survival Guide.

    Parents do need to set standards and model them…but everyone needs to cut others slack–you never know ‘the rest of the story’. Apples can be grafted and the lay of the land can influence where they roll.

  2. Dolly (Edit) Report

    It is imperative that parents role model appropriate behaviours with their children, this world is too submissive with their children. Children should be raised to exhibit respect of others, their beliefs, cultures, race and themselves .Children at a young age should be taught self control and given guidelines or limits, not options.



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