Juvenile Prison Wrong Place For Abused Youth, Now 12
Article by Senator Romero previously published in the Orange County Register on July 9, 2013
Californians were riveted by the story of Joseph Hall, the 10 - year- old boy who shot his father to death in May 2011. The shooting followed a meeting of neo-Nazis in the family home and the father's threat to burn the house down while the family slept. When the police arrived, Joseph said he was tired of his Dad hitting his stepemother and him, and he could now get a new dad. Not truly understanding his actions, Joseph asked officers whether his father would be coming back to life.
Joseph's story made national news. We learned that Joseph had suffered harm as a fetus, that he and his twin brother had been exposed to methamphetamine, heroin and domestic violence before birth. His twin did not survive. Joseph was born prematurely, suffering from breathing and sleep impairments.
At 3, Joseph was removed from his moter's care because of neglect and drugs. His parents each alleged physical and sexual abuse of Joseph. The court awarded custody to the father. At 5, Joseph was diagnosed with congitive and developmental disorders, emotional disturbance, speech and language disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactiivty Disorder. His disabilities were seen even in preschool.
At home, Joseph was repeatedly beaten and verbally abused. His stepmother also mistreated him, tying his hands and feet, causing him to trip down the stairs. Child Protective Services investigated Joseph's home more than 20 times. Yet, Joseph was never removed, and he remained with his father. Over the years, Joseph was taught to use guns, supposedly to "kill illegal Mexians." He was indoctrinated in his father's white supremacist lifestyle, including attending neo-Nazi rallies.
By age 10, when he pulled the trigger, he had been exposed to things no child should have ever had to endure.
A Riverside County Judge in January convicted Joseph of murder, and he was - finally - removed from his home, becoming one of Cailfornia's youngest violent offenders. Then the news stories stopped.
Joseph's new attorneys go back to court this week to argue where Joseph, now 12, should serve his sentence, most likely until he turns 23. The prosecutor and probation department argue he should go to California's notorious Division of Juvenile Justice. DJJ has been identified as the most violnet youth facility in the nation, plagued with gangs, suicide and significant untreated mental health issues. With an 80 percent recidivisim rate, DJJ is a failed rehabilitation model. Eight of the 11 DJJ facilities have been closed. Gov. Jerry Brown has called for closing all by 2015.
Yet, DJJ is where authorities wnat to place Joseph.
Joseph's advocates seek appropriate placement for Joseph in a locked and secure residential treatment facility that meets pubilc safety concerns and can treat Joseph's complex mental health and educational needs. If assigned to DJJ, he would become their youngest ward, highly vulnerable as the child of a white supremacist in a system that also houses black and Latino gangs.
For more than two years, Joseph has lived in Juvenile Hall, attending school. In a shameful behind-the-scenes fight over who will foot the bill to treat Joseph's special and mental health needs, both the Riverside County Department of Education and Rierside Unified School District urge Joseph's transfer to DJJ, washing their hands of their duties to Joseph under state and federal laws.
Joseph - a battered, abused child - has fallen through every crack possible in California's system of social and educational agencies. He has been denied the protections and due process routinely provided to battered spouses. His education and mental hatlh needs have been ignored. Surrendering him now to a dysfunctional youth prison will only ensure a fast track to an adult prison.
Jopseph needs help, not warehousing. Failed by most adults in his young life, California needs to finally do the right thing.
(Orange County Register columnist Gloria Romero is an education reformer and former Democratic State Senator from Los Angeles. Twitter @DFER_CA)