Juvie education

BY WILLIAM MOYERS Published: April 16, 2012
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Last week, I went to court thinking I knew a lot about drugs and young people. After shadowing the process of juvenile justice for an afternoon, I discovered some things I hadn't realized.

— "Weed" (marijuana) is beer. It is ubiquitous, the overwhelming drug of choice and a factor in almost every teen's reason for being in court. Kids smoke it as parents used to drink — at parties, at sporting events or hanging out on the front porch.

Unlike alcohol, it is easy to buy and sell, because there are virtually no checks and balances — except that it, too, is illegal. But kids couldn't care less about what the law says.

— Beer isn't weed. A can or six-pack of beer is harder to conceal. Police at the scene usually can tell when a kid's been drinking. Not so with marijuana. Beer costs more, and one joint equals three or four beers in terms of effect.

On the flip side, smoking isn't good for anyone's heart and lungs, so marijuana compromises a kid's body just as it does his mind. But teenagers couldn't care less.

— Technology robs kids. Few of the defendants absorbed the remarkable scene in the waiting room outside the courtroom because they were hypnotized by their smartphones. Kids can't learn what they don't see, hear and interact with, and what unfolded around them in the courthouse was a teachable moment lost.

Only the family I shadowed made sure its child noticed who else was there, how those kids interacted with their parents and court officials, what they were wearing, and the sheer magnitude of the time, expense and effort that go into the legal process.

No school teaches this. No video game re-creates it. I was mesmerized by the loud over-the-phone argument one young man had with his girlfriend while the probation officer stood impatiently waiting in front of him. A young woman actually walked into the courtroom and stood before the judge with headphones covering her ears.

And kids in varyingly stages of undress showed up as if they were on the street or at home, not in a court to answer to what they'd done wrong.

— School counts; friends matter; and parents are the first and last stop. Nothing stops a kid from using substances except the choices he makes, but when he gets in trouble, his chances of rebounding depend on the institutions and individuals in his life.



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