Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Johnson: Charge 10-year-old as an adult in accidental fire? Grow up

BILL JOHNSON

By Bill Johnson
Denver Post Columnist
POSTED: 01/19/2011 01:00:00 AM MST


Go for broke. Put the kid on the stand.
This is the reason I do not practice law, and would be quite bad at it if I did because I would go all in.
I'd put the kid up there, let those who will judge him soak in the absurdity of it all, that we live in a world that sees fit to charge a mere boy with a felony.
Jacob Christenson is 11.
More to the point, he was 10 last May when he and a buddy were playing with a lighter they found at their Parker townhome complex.
They put it to a piece of paper. The flame rose quickly and burned the buddy, who flung the lit paper into a dry pine bush.
By the time firefighters were done, a nearby townhome lay smoldering, the damage totaling nearly $200,000.
In other times, the grown-ups would have convened, exchanged apologies and homeowner insurance papers, and little Jacob might have spent some time out in the woodshed.
Not anymore. Jacob and his buddy are charged with criminal mischief and second-degree arson, a felony.
A conviction at trial scheduled to begin Feb. 17 could land the two boys in the juvenile criminal system for two years.
There is so much that is wrong with this. When did we start viewing children as something other than just that?
When did we begin to believe they have capabilities beyond what nature, science and old-fashioned common sense long ago revealed to us they cannot possibly possess?
A 10-year-old arsonist?
Really?
I ran these questions past Mary Ellen Johnson, executive director of the Pendulum Foundation in Denver, who has gained renown as an advocate for child prisoners and for challenging laws that can send juveniles to adult prison.
She is passionate on the subject of juvenile justice, having been at it for more than 20 years. The story of Jacob Christenson outrages her, and at the same time it puts her into deep despair.
"How is it possible for the district attorney to at all think it appropriate to charge such a young boy with a felony, to ruin his life? What is the point?" she says.
She said she has never heard of a DA seeking felony charges against a 10-year-old.
The true reason at this point can only be guesswork because my call to District Attorney Carol Chambers' office was not returned.
Maybe, I say to Johnson, she is trying to set an example, to teach other kids not to play with fire. This only enrages her.
"Charging this boy does not help anyone. He is a child. The older I get, the less I understand about our system of justice," she said.
Maybe we get older and simply forget what it is like to be 10 years old.
This is what Johnson believes.
"We are attempting to put adult reasoning on our children. And, God, help us, that is so unfair.
"Doesn't it say a lot about our country and how we view our children?" she said. "It says we don't care. It says we have become a selfish, moralistic society that somewhere along the way lost its compassion."
So yes, put him up there in his best clothes, and maybe a fresh new haircut. Have him explain how he is just a kid, how it was an accident, how he is sorry.
Let the chips fall.
Bill Johnson writes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach him at 303-954-2763 or wjohnson@denverpost.com.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jacob Christenson

Wow.  I continue to be speechless and heartbroken every time I am made aware of  another one of these stories.  When will it all end?  It seems that as so many prosecutors and DA's and judges continue to feel as if these children can think and act like adults, they themselves push further and further down on the evolutionary scale and are nothing more than neanderthals in their thinking.  Their maturity level then becomes less than the children they are trying to prosecute as adults.  It is all just so unfathomable to me that here in America, where we are supposed to be more evolved and fair and just in our thinking, we adults push morals on our children that we ourselves cannot even live up to.  Please read the following story; it deserves all of our attention.






Eli Hunter

Johnson: Charge 10-year-old as an adult in accidental fire? Grow up

By Bill Johnson
Denver Post Columnist
POSTED: 01/19/2011 01:00:00 AM MST


Go for broke. Put the kid on the stand.
This is the reason I do not practice law, and would be quite bad at it if I did because I would go all in.
I'd put the kid up there, let those who will judge him soak in the absurdity of it all, that we live in a world that sees fit to charge a mere boy with a felony.
Jacob Christenson is 11.
More to the point, he was 10 last May when he and a buddy were playing with a lighter they found at their Parker townhome complex.
They put it to a piece of paper. The flame rose quickly and burned the buddy, who flung the lit paper into a dry pine bush.
By the time firefighters were done, a nearby townhome lay smoldering, the damage totaling nearly $200,000.
In other times, the grown-ups would have convened, exchanged apologies and homeowner insurance papers, and little Jacob might have spent some time out in the woodshed.
Not anymore. Jacob and his buddy are charged with criminal mischief and second-degree arson, a felony.
A conviction at trial scheduled to begin Feb. 17 could land the two boys in the juvenile criminal system for two years.
There is so much that is wrong with this. When did we start viewing children as something other than just that?
When did we begin to believe they have capabilities beyond what nature, science and old-fashioned common sense long ago revealed to us they cannot possibly possess?
A 10-year-old arsonist?
Really?
I ran these questions past Mary Ellen Johnson, executive director of the Pendulum Foundation in Denver, who has gained renown as an advocate for child prisoners and for challenging laws that can send juveniles to adult prison.
She is passionate on the subject of juvenile justice, having been at it for more than 20 years. The story of Jacob Christenson outrages her, and at the same time it puts her into deep despair.
"How is it possible for the district attorney to at all think it appropriate to charge such a young boy with a felony, to ruin his life? What is the point?" she says.
She said she has never heard of a DA seeking felony charges against a 10-year-old.
The true reason at this point can only be guesswork because my call to District Attorney Carol Chambers' office was not returned.
Maybe, I say to Johnson, she is trying to set an example, to teach other kids not to play with fire. This only enrages her.
"Charging this boy does not help anyone. He is a child. The older I get, the less I understand about our system of justice," she said.
Maybe we get older and simply forget what it is like to be 10 years old.
This is what Johnson believes.
"We are attempting to put adult reasoning on our children. And, God, help us, that is so unfair.
"Doesn't it say a lot about our country and how we view our children?" she said. "It says we don't care. It says we have become a selfish, moralistic society that somewhere along the way lost its compassion."
So yes, put him up there in his best clothes, and maybe a fresh new haircut. Have him explain how he is just a kid, how it was an accident, how he is sorry.
Let the chips fall.
Bill Johnson writes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach him at 303-954-2763 orwjohnson@denverpost.com.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Juvenile Justice: Update & New Story

Juvenile Justice: Update & New Story

http://wandervogeldiary.wordpress.com/

Update & New Story

Next month will mark TWO YEARS that we have all been sitting here waiting for a decision in Nathan's case from his hearing in February of 2009 as to whether he will get a new trial or not. Nathan is doing extremely well and keeping quite busy. He has a 4.0 GPA in his college classes he is taking while incarcerated, which are all business and law related. He is also working as a paraprofessional in the music room at the prison, as well as studying various religions. He continues to amaze me with his perseverance, fortitude, and positive attitude.

But as I sit here shaking my head over the unbelievable fact that it's been two more years in prison for Nathan without a decision, another story has come across my desk that I must share with you all. I implore you to get involved and I will keep you updated here as to what we all can do to keep this from happening.

We are asking that you please familiarize yourself with the case of 12-year-old Paul Henry Gingerich, of Cromwell IN, who was tried and sentenced as an adult to 25 years in adult prison for conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the April 20, 2010 shooting death of Phillip Danner, the stepfather of a 15-year-old friend, Colt Lundy. Impressionable Paul Henry was bullied and manipulated by the older Lundy into participating in the incident, and on January 5 was given an identical sentence to that of the older friend who had hatched the plan and fired the fatal shots.

The Indiana Department of Corrections has determined that, because of Paul Henry’s youth and small size, the judge’s intention that this child serve his sentence in an adult prison would result in an unacceptable level of endangerment for the child. Instead, IDOC determined that Paul Henry should begin serving his sentence in the state’s youth prison system.

Unfortunately, instead of assigning Paul Henry to the most appropriate youth facility (which is located in South Bend), IDOC has determined that the boy will be assigned to the notorious Pendleton Juvenile Corrections Facility near Indianapolis.

Pendleton is the facility which made headlines a year ago when the US Department of Justice issued a report citing it as the second-worst institution among 195 youth prisons studied regarding instances of sexual abuse and sexual violence. The federal report disclosed that 36.2% of inmates report having been sexually abused by staff members and other inmates.

The population at Pendleton has fewer than five inmates as young as Paul Henry. Most of the prison’s 300 inmates are much older—up to age 22—they are repeat offenders and, most troubling, violent gang members and sex offenders. As is true with most other prisons in the US, approximately 75% have serious mental health conditions.

This child, because of his small size, personality, and physical attractiveness will be at grave risk in Pendleton’s predatory culture, and we are asking you to please use your contacts and influence to encourage IDOC to reconsider its decision and reassign Paul Henry Gingerich to the youth corrections facility in South Bend.

It appears IDOC made its decision to send Paul Henry to Pendleton not on the basis of what is best for the child’s rehabilitation, but to placate the judge and prosecutors who wanted this boy to be punished in an adult facility.

For more in-depth information about Paul Henry’s case, please visit the personal blogsite of Dan Dailey, a Texas-based youth justice advocate who is working with Paul Henry’s parents to organize a legal appeal and a humane resolution of this disturbing perversion of justice.

Expanded story: http://wandervogeldiary.wordpress.com/2011/01/17/good-news-bad-news/