“I’ll tell you, as an advocate, my position has shifted over time… I now believe we need… court monitors to come in and watch… When the public sees what might happen in a proceeding, I think they’d be shocked, because if it was their child experiencing this, if it was their voice as the mother being silenced and told, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing. We know better what’s needed for your kiddo.’ I think they’d be deeply disturbed.”
Mae Quinn is the director of the MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis. In her interview, she talks about the state of juvenile justice in Missouri, the goals of the MacArthur Justice Center and their work with juveniles, and the bigger picture of the state of juvenile justice in America.
“For a long time this idea of working up therapeutic options, figuring out what the treatment modalities might be, it was just sort of brushed off as social work. No one should be denigrating social work; it’s deeply, deeply important in both adult and juvenile systems, but it is fundamental to doing a good job for kids.”
Interview with Mae Quinn, conducted by Joann Self Selvidge for The Juvenile Project (TJP) on March 03, 2017 at the MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis, MO.
Joann: Tell me your name and your position in the organization.
Mae Quinn: Okay, so my name is Mae Quinn and I'm the Director of the MacArthur Justice Center in St. Louis.
Joann: Yes, tell me a little bit about the work that you do here.
Mae Quinn: The MacArthur Justice Center has around for 30 years and our headquarters is in Chicago, at Northwestern School of Law. In the last five years, the organization has opened offices around the country. The group is focused on civil rights and human rights, in particular, issues relating to criminal justice and racial justice. As I say, about five years ago they started opening additional offices. The second was opened in New Orleans, and then next we opened an office in Mississippi, then this office this past summer. We did just open an office in Washington DC to work on our appeals. Really, the organization's focused on locations that are in need of civil rights attorneys, where there's a need for greater resources and attention to issues that have been long overlooked.
Joann: Okay. How did you come to this work? Tell me a little bit about your personal background.
Mae Quinn: Sure, so I'm the first in my family to go to college. I left home at 17. I worked full-time to put myself through school and just knew I always wanted to be an attorney. But when I went to law school, the goal was to be a victim’s advocate. I thought I was doing domestic violence work, order protection work, and we didn't have that kind of clinic or that kind of experiential opportunity at my law school, so I participated in the criminal defense clinic when I was a 2L student. Thinking I was just going to learn how the other side did business, to make me a better victim's advocate and I was incredibly drawn to the work. My world view on these things I think became more complicated by working with persons who were accused of crimes and seeing things were not always as straightforward as I previously thought. That many of the folks accused of crimes frequently are innocent, whether it's actually legally or morally. That we punish a lot of people for things that really, in my mind, are not true crimes, and really got drawn into defense work. Then overtime, was focusing on juvenile defense issues in law school some, but then in Tennessee and then here in Missouri.
Joann: Okay. It's interesting though, you talk about the advocacy and then what you do now. Do you feel like you came full circle in a way because you're still advocating?
Mae Quinn: Oh sure, it's all advocacy. I think I just became a more critical thinker, came to see the dividing lines between victims and perpetrators is not always so clear, that those who we're accusing of crimes and putting into our criminal and juvenile justice systems are frequently victims themselves. Whether it's at the hands of those in their family, or the systems in which they find themselves, you know, systems of oppression and racism. I mean these are ways in which we traumatize and victimize people and we don't sufficiently account for that, and so I think the experience made me realize that most people need an advocate, regardless of what it is that they are accused of. Someone not to speak for them, but to stand with them and in some instances help them find their voice but to surely stand with them when perhaps someone else would not.
Joann: So tell me, where did you grow up and then where have you lived subsequently? Like where have you lived and worked and where'd you go to school and all that, so that we can get an idea of what you were interfacing with, in terms of these systems in each of these different locations.
Mae Quinn: Sure. In some ways I think I've seen the gamut. I say that I've practiced in trial courts and appellate courts, and state courts and federal courts and administrative agencies and you know, actual courts. I grew up in Staten Island, New York and New York City, even though it's New York City, it's quite different, it's quite conservative, very blue collar, very pro-police. So that's the environment I grew up in. I went to college in Upstate New York and then ultimately went to law school. I started in New York City at a community college, while I was waitressing and then went Upstate New York to get my degree ultimately. Went to law school in Texas and so there represented clients while I was in clinic. I did three different clinics there, including a juvenile defense clinic. From there I went to Washington D.C. where I had a Fellowship at Georgetown University and I was teaching and supervising students. From there I went back to New York and I spent time, about eight years back in New York doing mostly defense work. I clerked for a judge and did some other things.
So about 10 years into my legal career I decided to go into teaching, which was something I always wanted to do, and to do it in a hands-on kind of way. So then I moved to Tennessee, so I was in Knoxville, Tennessee there teaching in the clinic, and then Washington University here in St. Louis contacted me and asked me if I was interested in coming here to help launch a project focused on children and family rights.
Joann: So you've worked in juvenile justice, pretty much all of those areas, could you tell me a little bit about the similarities that you've seen kind of across all of the systems and then some of the distinct differences that pop out?
Mae Quinn: Sure. Similarities are that I think unfortunately this idea that juvenile courts are intervening in the lives of children to deliver services and treatment remains a bit of a myth. When we sort of look at what was said and the decision of In re Gault, United States Supreme Court, 1967, that the court there didn't come out and call out these systems as failing to deliver on their promise but very much raised the question of, is it in fact as therapeutic as it reports to be and that, I think remains across systems. And there are surely some good programs and some good probation officers, and some good actors within these systems but we are really still I think some distance away from having very rigorous, even handed evidence-based programs that we can really point to and say these are therapeutic and helpful. Across systems we hear stories from parents, in many states, that they came to the court for help and it really just disrupted their family's life, caused chaos, created more problems than they ever realized. Appointments all around town, more requirements for a family that's already struggling and impoverished, that's across systems.
Again, I think some do it better than others but those accounts do seem to ... You know, you'll hear it in New York and you'll hear it here. Big difference is the advocacy, at least in my mind, that I've seen across systems. Not just with individual advocates but a culture relating to advocacy and having been raised most of my time as a defender in New York, it's a very strong advocate culture. No one questions the ability of a lawyer to stand up and make an argument. Ideas of pushback and retaliation are things that would have never really occurred to me previously. I didn't see it either in Tennessee, nor in Washington D.C.. I'd say Missouri is a very much an outlier in terms of a culture that is developed, that is committed to what is seen as teamwork but sort of looked it from another angle, is just a lack of advocacy and voice for kids and primarily kids of color.
There is, in this jurisdiction, more than any other I've been in, just real shock when lawyers do what they're required to do under the constitution for their clients. This is in part, because of the structure of the courts here, where you have a Deputy Juvenile Officer as sort of the centerpiece of our juvenile court system. That evolved, that started in 1957, pre-Gault, and we've never changed. We've never revisited and rewrote our juvenile code, despite the fact that there was this landmark, very much game-changing decision rendered. That culture's just remained and then you add to that a state that is committed to reduce budgets each year and almost always looking to the defense to do that. It is kind of shocking how little our public defender system is expected to operate with. We're ranked 49th in the country for funding. We're ranked dead last when it comes to being eligible for a lawyer, so you have to be poorer in the state of Missouri to get a free lawyer than in any other state.
As National Juvenile Defender Center said, they sort of put it well, that justice is rationed here. So when you have so few resources, you focus on the most serious and usually the adult defendants. In this state, 60% of children pass through our juvenile court system without representation and it's not entirely clear why. If you look at the public defender systems accounting of the cases it does in each county after county it says zero, zero, zero and they don't even have the wherewithal. We recently had a conversation with them about this, they're so underwater and they're so understaffed they don't have the wherewithal to even ask the question, "What's happening with these kids who are clearly coming through the courts, but who are not getting the services of our offices?" So this is the culture here, and so when someone stands up and you know, rejects that kind of thinking, or swims against the tide, it's met with great resistance and quite personally many times.
Joann: You said you worked in Texas as well, did you see some of this culture in Texas?
Mae Quinn: Yeah. Perhaps I had a skewed sense because I was practicing in Austin, right? So I think everyone would agree that Austin is kind of a unique enclave in Texas generally. I do think that across the state of Texas, while historically, the adult defender system has been deeply challenged, and there was no adult defender system until very recently. There were pockets of juvenile defender offices, not just in Austin, I think around the state. I was brought up there under some very talented, very committed, juvenile defense lawyers and a freestanding committed office that was dedicated to singularly representing children. As I say, I might have a bit of a skewed sense, but it's truly where I got my passion from, it's truly where I saw lawyers who were not scared to stand up, even in a relatively cozy system, because there too you have probation officers, and others still in that same building.
These were lawyers who would take it to the mat and say, "No, you know, this is not appropriate. There's probably cause problems," or, "No, this isn't appropriate placement, it's too restrictive." And so that was more in line with what I then experienced in New York and in D.C., different. This is perhaps where Missouri is better than some places. Different is the places where we put kids after they're found guilty. So in Texas it's a true juvenile prison-like system, at least when I was there, and you know, barbed wire, and quite punitive both in how it looks when you see it as a visual and how it's experienced. I do think Missouri is better in that we do try through the division of Youth Services, if a child's removed from the home and placed in the state's custody, to try to create an atmosphere that is kinder, gentler, less barbed wire. But I would, even there, raise the question, "Are we, are we doing justice on the therapy front, on the intervention front?" Because I think we're really lagging, maybe in the 80's we did well, but more recently not so well.
Joann: Tell me a little bit about what is going on right now in the state of Missouri and then specifically in reference to the, I believe it was the Civil Rights of the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division?
Mae Quinn: Yeah.
Joann: Tell me about what happened.
Mae Quinn: Yeah, so, small handful of advocates on the ground were quite concerned about the state of affairs in Missouri in the juvenile courts, and what was happening. We were in touch with the National Juvenile Defender Center who shared our concerns. Kind of in tandem, a number of things happened. National Juvenile Defender Center conducted an assessment here in Missouri, which was one of the ways that it was determined, people finally began to focus on this idea that so many kids had no lawyers at all it seemed like in juvenile court, but also that it's cultural problem and the resources issue that were preventing lawyers from actually getting to see their clients, file motions, that kind of thing. Myself, another fellow by the name of Josh Gupta-Kagan, we wrote some articles. We tried to bring attention to the issue through press, through media, but also through academic publications, and tried to work collaboratively with stakeholders, convene meetings, held conferences, did a variety of things to try encourage local folks to make change. That was not happening.
In one instance, we decided to file some documents with the local court pointing out a particular practice or probation conditions that required all children to turn over their social media passwords to their probation officers, so the probation officers could then sign-on as the children. Essentially, permitting an oppose as the children, and a variety of other very restrictive conditions that we thought were violative of their first, fourth and fourteenth amendment rights, and potentially a violative of criminal laws when those folks were doing those things. When we presented those arguments in a formal way to a judge, he threw us out. We were denied privileges there after, from representing kids in court, and were told, as I've frequently been told in the state of Missouri, "No one else has ever made those arguments. No one else does those things," which is of course, deeply troubling. It should be a moment for reflection not punishment.
Thereafter, the Department of Justice came to town and launched an investigation. Many people didn't realize, while there was protestors in the street around Mike Brown's killing and the Ferguson uprising was taking place, long before DOJ arrived to look at those things it was investigating the County of St. Louis Juvenile Court. I should say, the County of St. Louis has problems, but it's not alone in Missouri. It's not the only court that conducts itself in these ways that are not sufficiently protective of kids' rights, and separation of powers problems with the DJO. So, for a long time, that investigation was underway, from 2013 to 2015. Finally in July of 2015 the report was issued and made four main findings. The way I summarize it, one that our juvenile court system is unconstitutional from top to bottom, given it's structure which is rife with conflicts of interest, where the deputy juvenile officer essentially works for the court system and is the plaintiff. They're represented by a prosecutor who's not an outsider either, but also works for the court system. So day in and day out, they're essentially reporting to their bosses while they're supposedly prosecuting and seeking justice in cases.
The second thing was a wide range of due process violations. Everything from the ways in which there's a lack of probable cause findings being made at the detention hearing phase, other due process problems where folks were just confused about their rights, problems around Miranda warnings and the like.
The third finding related to the right to counsel, and this idea that the culture, the lack of lawyers, the overwhelming caseloads, resulted in kids getting very much substandard representation. The numbers were that there was one public defender essentially representing 400 children in one year. Then the fourth finding related to racial bias, at every step of the way in the system. And so, it took a long time, about a year and half, and finally an agreement has been reached between the county and the Department of Justice. It addresses some of the due process issues, surely not all. It addresses some of the racial bias concerns, not all, in my mind. It addresses somewhat this idea of the right to counsel but all that it has required is that the county get one more lawyer in there. So you have a situation where it's gone from one public defender to two, and it hasn't even happened yet. This is to cover what is being covered by five prosecutors. So you have five court rooms, five prosecutors, but only two defense lawyers, with no investigator, social workers or anything to kind of cover it. So that's the agreement.
Also left entirely untouched by the agreement, is the structure and conflicts issue, which unaddressed, I think it makes it very hard for any of those other changes to have much meaning.
Joann: So when you say that you've got the public defenders, do the court systems here not use any court appointed private attorneys? How does that work?
Mae Quinn: They do, every county is different in the way that happens. So the first level of conflict resolution ... So say the public defender comes in and there's a case with three co-defendants, that's a prime case where you need some other lawyers. Well, what was happening then, and I think even if we went down there today, it's still happening, that same public defender will still stand on all three of those cases at the detention hearing, which is a fundamental conflict of interest, and prevents that person from truly advocating for all three people. Later on down the line is when another lawyer might come in and take the case. In some instances it was my clinic, until we were thrown out of court. But the first layer is it usually just goes to another public defender office. So in some ways, it's like throwing salt on a wound because they're already underwater and instead of bringing more resources to bear to take over these conflict situations they call up the sister office. So say St. Louis county will call up St. Charles county and say, "Can you send a lawyer out to handle this case?" They then have to travel 30 miles, whatever it is, to come out and cover this one, two, five, however many conflict cases they have. So that's the first layer.
But then sometimes they will use private lawyers, and each county, as I say, is different. In St. Louis county there were a handful of lawyers who were very much enmeshed in the court system itself and they primarily did GAL work, Guardian ad Litem work, in abuse and neglect cases but sometimes they would be brought in to handle conflict cases and other cases is my understanding. I don't know the fee structure, but I do know that if you're from the Public Defender's Office and they pay you, it's a flat rate and it's very low. It's about somewhere between 3 and $500 for every juvenile case.
Joann: Okay. So tell me a little bit about the ... you had kind of ... As a juvenile defense attorney, you know, one or two cases or stories of individuals, of youth, family members, et cetera, that really kind of stick out in your mind that you can share with us.
Mae Quinn: There's one young boy who we represented, and in almost all the cases we were handling in the county, in recent times we would get the case after the detention hearing. In this case, it was the same situation, the public defender represented the boy at the detention hearing and he was held. He was an 11 year old, fifth grader who was probably the smallest boy I'd ever represented, just a tiny, tiny little peanut of a kid, and he was accused of shooting a BB gun, and by everyone's account, accidentally hitting two kids. One was hit in the belly, and the other, very bad injury, hit another boy in the eye. Nobody thought that was a good thing. Nobody thought that should go without some kind of address, and concern, but he was instead charged with two felonies and held with big, tough older boys in the detention center. The position of the Deputy Juvenile Officer and his lawyer was, "He needs to be held accountable, he committed a crime. These are felonies."
When we came in we filed emergency motions to have them revisit his detention, and would not even come to agree that this child should be released on an ankle bracelet or the like. It was a hard fought battle. We finally got this young man released from detention. I mean I was quite shocked at how vigorous the Deputy Juvenile Officer was in his opposition to our just getting this kid back into his elementary school. As it turned out, the elementary school ... There's a lot of stuff out in the community around this case where the boys knew each other from the community and school and one of the arguments offered by the DJO to keep our client in detention, which is frequently offered is, he needs to stay in detention because here he can get an education. He's going to get put out of his school because of his conduct. In fact that was not the case. In fact the other boy was put out of the school because it turned out he wasn't zoned for that school district, and there were some issues around that.
We did ultimately get that young man out and we had him evaluated by an expert, who found that he was incompetent. He did not understand the proceedings against him. He could not reasonably assist us, could not understand the fabulous plea offer that was extended of a misdemeanor, even though it's quite clear this was accidental conduct with no guilty state of mind. The prosecutor for the DJO looked at our report from our very well established, well respected expert and said, "I don't even read that this says he's incompetent." It couldn't be read any other way. It was an absurd statement on his part, and he just held fast to getting some kind of pound of flesh out of this kid. We did ultimately get it sent down what's called the informal adjustment path. So then he was required for six months to have no new cases and follow certain conditions and then the charges were dismissed. That child was deeply traumatized by his experience being in the system.
I think the front end, it's really not the fault of the public defender, but if some of those facts and circumstances about school and other things were known, that the initial detention hearing might have been different. If the DJO was more focused, as they claimed to be, on the well-being of children, than I don't think they would have ever said, "This is where this child belongs, in the detention center." The uniforms didn't even fit him, the little shackles would barely fit around his wrists. They made sure to shackle him for every court appearance. So that case really stands out to me as, pretty much, an example of all that's wrong with the system.
Also in the reports, that were generated by the Deputy Juvenile Officer who was supposedly looking at not just what should the outcome legally be for the child but what should the disposition or "sentence" be for the child. I put "sentence" in quotes because, again, it's supposed to be therapeutic. But that report, like so many in that court, read like an indictment of the family, read like an indictment of a way of life that was perceived and all manner or irrelevant, and I'm going to suggest racially tinged, information was included in that report. That too, traumatized the mother, offended the mother. And time and again, we hear that from the families we work with and the kids we work with, like, "Why are they talking about us like this? Why do these reports have to be written like this?" So I think that one stands out for me.
Another case stands out for me. A young man who was one of three boys, accused of robbing somebody. I knew from the very beginning that the charges were deeply problematic, that the complaining witness was someone who suffered from mental health issues, that the facts were just very strange as alleged. This young man was held and his co-defendants, made to face the possibility of certification to adult court. Where, if he was convicted, he would be looking at a sentence of between 10 and 30 years, or life. He's a 15 year old boy who's deeply limited in many ways. His mother was not present for him throughout many of his younger years. There was a DYS, or not a DYS, a DHS report where he was found on the front stairs of his house at like six years old by himself, him and a cousin, and left to fend for themselves.
Instead of the system having intervened at that time, to provide the support this mom needed, they from then forward sort of began criminalizing this child. So here's this charge which was, as I say, I knew was deeply problematic. He was held for three months, he was not certified, but then the charges were ultimately dismissed. These prosecutors knew all along they had no contact with the alleged victim. They knew all along there were problems wt this case and this was question of probable cause. This was one of the findings of the Department of Justice, how can you, in good conscience as a prosecutor, declare that you have probable cause to move forward with a case if you've never spoken to the victim? If you're going on a statement, a second and third-hand statement of an officer that's not even sworn, and you've never had a phone conversation, or looked really deeply into the facts to see what else is there out there? And they persisted in prosecuting these boys.
All three had their charges dismissed. My client had some low level misdemeanors left on his record. He allegedly stole some socks, because he had no socks. He stole and shirt, and he stole a cookie, literally a cookie, from a store. The court was still so adamant that it had to hold this child accountable in some way that he remained, he wound up in out-of-home placement and is at DYS today, based on that kind of conduct and some status violations that followed. He ran away from one of the placements, and now he's in DYS. We brought to the table an alternative, that he wanted to go to Job Corps. We brought in a representative from Job Corps to talk about how this was an appropriate placement for him. And there too, this kind of blind notion, that we know better, the Deputy Juvenile Officer knows better, without any real weighing of what that supposed therapeutic intervention is. It amounts to just containment of kids of color, and derailing them from other opportunities.
I'll also note in that case, one of the other co-defendants who had his case dismissed, was so harassed by the police, his family so harrangued by the officers relating to that incident, some others, that they've left the state. I just spoke to the mother last week and they've moved to Tennessee, and they said, "We just can't live there anymore," because there's no check on the power of the law enforcement and what they're doing to our kids and our families.
Joann: So tell me a little bit about the ... What is the typical process? I'm sure like many other places there's school-based officers who have ... You just mentioned the police and the way law enforcement is in certain communities. What is the typical process for a kid who gets picked up, you know, what happens to him?
Mae Quinn: In Missouri, we have a somewhat strange rule that says, that when a child is arrested, and they're taken into custody by the police, they need to be immediately taken before the juvenile court. They have to go into judicial custody, so that this Deputy Juvenile Officer role can then step in to serve as the guiding hand, and helpful agent to this child. Again, like I throw back to the 1950's, and so the officer, within the first 12 hours, is supposed to get that child to a Deputy Juvenile Officer who then serves as the person to administer the rights to this child. And so this, over time, has been seen as this wonderfully protective feature that the Deputy Juvenile Officer and not the law enforcement agent's going to tell the kid about Miranda, but if you think about it, it's the judges own staff that's then warning the child. It then necessarily turns that person into a witness in the case, and puts the imprimatur of this absolutely was a lawful process, just because the court's staff has gotten involved in it.
It's very skewed and it's very confusing to the child. They're led to believe this person's out to protect them, but you know, I deposed a Deputy Juvenile Officer relating to one of these interrogations once, and she seemed quite pleased and proud with the fact that she was kind of soothing the child and making sure they felt okay. And sure, it's great that we don't want kids have statements beaten out of them, but nor do we want them to be lulled into making confessions that they ought not make, that might not even be reliable because they think this person's going to help them get out, they're their advocate.
So that's the process. Within 12 hours of an arrest they're supposed to be taken to the judicial officer, or to the juvenile officer. Then within 24 hours, a decision is made about whether there's sufficient probably cause, from the prospective of those agents and, "Do we want to hold the child, pending a detention hearing?" Then if they're held, a detention hearing, by statute here, is supposed to be held within 72 hours. Many of us believe that's unconstitutional, it should happen in 48. At that detention hearing, historically, there's been no presentation of probable cause in a way that you might see at a preliminary hearing, or even in adult cases by statute in Missouri, has to to be sworn under oath, that this is being given under penalty of perjury, this statement, it tends to be firsthand information. In juvenile court we get second and third-hand information that is not adequately sworn, and they're saying this is enough to hold these kids on probable cause. They didn't even previously allow us to challenge probable cause at the hearings because it would happen in that little 24 hour window, before we entered as lawyers into the case.
That's doubly unconstitutional. There's a case called RWT, that was decided by the eighth circuit in the 1980's, and when my students in my clinic and I, started arguing that RWT the judges didn't even know what that case was. People in the courts never even heard of it before and took it quite personally that we said that this is unconstitutional. And it's like, "You're not unconstitutional, this practice is unconstitutional." So that's the process. Then if a child is held at the detention hearing, the next date after that is usually within 30 days, because by statute the court is supposed to be reviewing the detention status every 30 days, but it's not required to make the case move to resolution in 30 days. So that's the process. The lawyers don't enter. In other places you might get notice a child's taken into custody or immediately notified, no, I have been in situations where the DJO seems it's going out of their way to prevent me from knowing my client's been rearrested or picked up.
Sometimes these arrests, you mentioned school, have happened when there's an allegation of a violation of probation. As a matter of law, that would be considered, unless it's a new crime, it's a technical violation. That's a status offense, not a crime. And yet, the Deputy Juvenile Officers, who are so concerned with the well-being of these kids, would go ex parte behind the back of the lawyers, the defense lawyers, to the judge, get a warrant and send police into the schools to arrest these children.
I had one young man who was on probation for a misdemeanor, and that misdemeanor related to he and some other boys trespassing on some property. They were a group of good friends, and one of those boys was homeless and they were trying to like figure out ways to get this kid some stuff that he needed. Not a good idea, but in any event, it was resolved with a misdemeanor on his record. He was put on probation. He was alleged to be one, testing positive to marijuana, and two, getting suspended from school for five days. So, in answer to that alleged behavior, the DJO, rather than having a sit down or convening a meeting, decided it'd be a good idea to send the police into school and arrest him. So in went the Ferguson Police Department, under investigation by DOJ already, into the school, cuffs this kid in front of his colleagues, and then he sat in detention for over five days because he had allegedly been kicked out of school for five days. The question of whether he was testing positive for marijuana or not was deeply contested and yeah.
So this is the kind of thing that happens in the school setting. I don't think, in that instance, school officials like that the DJO's wield this kind of power but there's a real ability of the DJO's to say, "We're here for the court. We're doing the work of the court," and then they are in the schools making appointments with children, meeting with them, sort of signaling to everyone, "This is a child on papers," these kids on bracelets going and adjusting their bracelets at school, that kind of thing.
I had one judge, when we were arguing to have a child released, and they wanted to put a bracelet on him and I said, "It's low level conduct. You don't need to track these children like animals that ... for this very very minor stuff." I said, "And he's gonna be in gym. It's warm months, he's going to be wearing shorts and he's going to have a bracelet on his ankle. It's very stigmatizing." And the judge then asked my client, "What school do you go to?" And he said, and of course it was a school that was primarily black, and she said, "It doesn't matter, most of the kids there have bracelets. They all know what it is."
So this is the sort of culture that's created, and it's kind of, you know, I say it's like the duel ledger system. The kids are getting negative points in courts, and getting negative points in the school, in the way that these two systems operate together. Then we have the Safe Schools Act in Missouri, and there's like a long history of many, many states have mandatory reporting around certain crimes, gun crimes alike. This came out in the 1990's. We were resistant because we're a pro-gun state, we were resistant to kind of signing on to that law, but when we did we went with it well beyond, I think, what many other states have done in terms of this relationship between the courts and the schools and what's criminalized, just because of some relationship to school.
So there are these things called Safe Schools Act violations. If a child is charged with certain crimes, the school, in essence, can put them out even though that case has not been resolved, they have not been found guilty, and it had nothing to do with the school. It wasn't one school grounds, it wasn't near school grounds, nothing of the sort. And then those charges are then used, as I mentioned earlier, by the judges as an excuse for holding the child. "If I let him out he's not gonna be taken back by his school. At least if he's in detention we'll give him school." And then there's ... We can have a longer conversation about the substandard school and educational services that are provided but you know, hopefully that gives you some sense of the context.
Joann: Could you talk a little bit about the recent changes with the JLWOP?
Mae Quinn: Yeah, so in 2012 the United States Supreme Court said that, "Children cannot be mandatorily sentenced to die behind bars." Life without parole as a sentence was not entirely found to be unconstitutional, but found to be permitted in only very, very rare instances. There needed to be findings made that this child, in essence, is unreachable, that they will never be able to be rehabilitated, before we give them that kind of sentence. Therefore, there needs to be a very detailed and specific kind of hearing that takes place around those kinds of possible sentences. And so Miller v. Alabama said, you know, created that framework. Then three years later, in a case called Montgomery, United States Supreme Court said, "And this applies not just going forward, but to all the kids in the past who've been impacted by this, by this law." And in Missouri we had about 85 young people who had been previously sentenced to death behind bars, mandatory death behind bars sentences. So my clinic served as sort of an organizing hub to make sure that all these kids, now adults, had lawyers to help them file habeas petitions, and seek relief to get re-sentenced.
Traveled a long path, we were one of the last states to fully embrace what Miller stood for, but we did so in way that, consistent with our history, denied all these people their constitutional right to counsel, denied all these people what we believe is their 14th amendment right to due process. Instead of giving them re-sentencings, has now sent them all to the parole board. The Missouri parole board is known nationwide as one of the least transparent, most problematic parole boards that grants very, very few requests for release and denies at a great rate without providing much in the way of reasoning.
So now our office is continuing in the work, and representing these folks who are at year 25 now, under the way Missouri has interpreted Miller and Montgomery. They get to make an application to the parole board, but the vast, vast majority of those cases have been denied so far. I will say, the vast, vast majority of the folks who are serving those sentences ... high numbers out of St. Louis region, and most of those are kids of color. I want to say it's 95%, it's a very high number of the kids who are sentenced to life without parole out of St. Louis city are black. 60% were black out of St. Louis county, even though the population is much lower, maybe around 20%. So by hearing case by case, trying to get these guys released, but the vast majority have been denied so far. Of about 12 cases that have been heard, there've been 10 denials, only two grants, and one is for one of the lesser number of white defendants who had the sentence.
Joann: Thanks. So tell me about, just briefly, because I know we're going to be running out of time soon, tell me a little bit ... Oh, we're good. Oh. In terms of reform possibilities, of current legislation, what are the priorities right now?
Mae Quinn: There is a good bill that's currently being considered in Missouri legislature, relating to raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction in Missouri. Wayne Wallingford, of the State Senate, has introduced it. Freshman representative in the house has the companion bill and it seeks to raise the age of juvenile court to 18. Now, a lot of problems in juvenile court and lots of things need to be fixed, but it's even worse in the adult system, if it's imaginable. Adult jails are far worse than our detention centers. You may have heard, I said very little about our detention centers for juveniles, but in my experience, some of the most caring people in the system I've encountered are in those detention centers, and hardest working, most concerned folks. So I'd much prefer a young person, if they're going to be held, to go to a detention center than a jail. In theory, the juvenile court is rehabilitative. I hope we get to the place where it's really delivering topnotch services but it's still, at the very least, will protect confidentiality and will be focused on school. Whereas, kids in our adult jails, you might be 17 years old sitting in jail, you get zero education and you're just, you know ... This is a kid who might be there just for a short period of time, six months, but you know, they've sort of lost their ability to stay on track and get an education.
So this bill to raise the age is very important. We're an outlier nationwide. We're one of only seven states that still allows children, at age 17, to automatically be filed into adult court. So that's one piece of legislation. Unfortunately, there's not been a great push through legislation to adopt and embrace what it is the Department of Justice found. In fact, it's gone the exact opposite direction. From the legislators to our High Court of Missouri, have sort of doubled down on their commitment to this conflicted court system.
It's quite complicated, but last year and into this year there are pieces of legislation that create various commissions and advisory groups, that they're main mission is to keep the Deputy Juvenile Officer as the centerpiece of our juvenile court system, without doing anything to enforce or reinforce the right to counsel, provided more money for counsel. I mean, our public defenders got money last year, 3.5 million, that was intended to address that conflict problem I talked about. And our Governor, or democratic Governor, after the legislature had granted that money, took it back. Right? Some of this is retaliation we think, for people piping up about things. But in our republican regime right now, I'm not sure we're going to see much different, and yet we're doing much more to embrace and reinforce, through funding and legislation, the way things are and the status quo versus thinking about how do we have future oriented, modern juvenile justice system that protects due process and the right to counsel.
Joann: So even though the MOA said the DJO has this fundamental conflict, no one has brought up, "Well we can still have the DJO and they can provide that social work treatment orientation function, but we should separate that from the prosecutorial, you know, the traditional court function." Has anything been brought up specifically?
Mae Quinn: The MOA doesn't say that.
Mae Quinn: The four findings address it, in July of 2015. The agreement that was signed in December of 2016, as the Obama administration was wrapping up and Republicans were coming in, silent on that score. Fortunately, that agreement is a private agreement, not in a court, not binding on anyone else except the parties to it. Private lawyers are not parties to it. My organization is not a party to that agreement. And it is silent on this fundamental question. So, as the press mentioned shortly there after, they don't see how things are going to change without litigation. That may be what it takes for lawsuits to be brought to challenge the fundamental structure of our juvenile court, for lawsuits to be brought to saying, "These scraps of rights to counsel that you're throwing in there to change things, it's not enough."
Joann: So there's no consent decree?
Mae Quinn: It's not a consent decree in the ways that you see through a court system once a lawsuit is filed. It's similar to the Memphis model, which is not a consent decree either. It's an, like you called it, an MOU, it's an agreement as amongst parties that, to be honest, the only way to enforce that is to say, "There's been a breach and now this contract has been breached as between the parties, and we want it enforced as between the parties," or, "You've breached such that now I'm going to sue you." DOJ might sue them, but it doesn't have the force or the effect of a settlement that's been signed by a judge. The beauty, if there's a beauty to that, is it doesn't tie the hands of outside advocacy organizations like my own.
Joann: Gotcha. So what are your plans?
Mae Quinn: We're very busy. We're a small shop of four full-time staff, with law clerks and interns and others interested in the issues we're interested in. We have spent a lot of time in our first couple of months focused on the prisons. One of the issues, one of the first lawsuits we filed related to the rights of juveniles in prisons and youthful offenders who go before the parole board, challenging the fact that the parole board system has failed to take account of all the things that Miller talked about when it's handling these cases. We continue to focus our attention on the juvenile courts, and we sort of waited and watched to see what happened in December when the agreement ... We didn't know it was going to be in the agreement, when it was signed and what was going to be in it. We'll see what happens in the days ahead.
Joann: Okay. Tell us a little bit more about what's happening on a national level.
Mae Quinn: Sure. It's such a tricky thing to try to, in a few statements, say you know what's happening nationally. Maybe I can say, it frequently feels like it's two steps forward, one step back on the national stage and progress around juvenile justice and the rights of youth. So for instance, on this juvenile life without parole question, in some places we're seeing great strides being made, that legislators have taken seriously what the United States Supreme Court has said about sentencing youth and individualized assessment of their life circumstances and their juvenile status. So some states, West Virginia, others have entirely taken juvenile life without parole off the table. And so others, like ours, have not. It remains a possibility but it is at least being chipped away at somewhat. It's more rare now going forward, at least it ought to be under Missouri's new statute. So we see some progress on that front. I think this idea of right to counsel, here we are on the 50th anniversary of Gault, we have a lot of work to do there still.
There are some good models. I think states that are committed to having trained juvenile defenders delivering quality services for young people. Washington D.C. is one of those jurisdictions where it's a priority, where the defender system doesn't see it solely as a training ground, but is a place where you can have a specialization. And the time and attention that's needed in these cases is devoted to it. I think some High Courts are taking seriously this idea that juvenile defense work requires more time and attention than, say a run of the mill, adult misdemeanor case. Like for a long time, this idea of working up therapeutic options, figuring out what the treatment modalities would be, was just sort of brushed off as social work. Which no one should be denigrating social work, it's deeply deeply important in both adult and juvenile systems, but it is fundamental to doing a good job for kids. So I do think we see some courts beginning to realize that as something to be embraced, as a model for the days ahead.
Raise the age is a issue that is being pressed around the country. So we saw changes in Connecticut going in the right direction. We see in Louisiana, a few years ago, they raised the age. In New York, the governor has come out calling on folks to raise the age. They're one of only two, where the kids at age 16 directly can be filed into adult court. I saw that, I represented those kids in the Bronx. So we do see some signs of hope, but I do think unfortunately for youth justice and kids issues in the courts, it's such a hard area to make the progress that you might see in the adult system. We saw this around Ferguson, as I mentioned earlier, the United States Department of Justice was investigating the juvenile court locally under everyone's noses, and people didn't even know it. They didn't know it because the juvenile court is seen as this confidential place, and they weren't in there to see what was happening. The kids surely didn't know when to speak up about it.
So I don't think nationwide, we still struggle with this phenomenon of how do we find out what's happening in these courts? How do we surface the issues? How do we protect the kids, so if they want to talk about it they're not retaliated against, there's not backlash? It's very hard to find plaintiffs generally, in civil rights cases, nevermind a young person who knows that a probation officer or detention guards wield all the power in their lives. So this is something I think we need to think about more critically in the future in this country. Maybe this is sort of going to far afield but, rethinking how we bring claims in courts for kids is something I think that's going to be very important in the days ahead. How is it that maybe we find a way to utilize next friends, people who can stand in the shoes of a young person, knowledgeable people who know the system who can then stand up and say, "Well, these children can't describe what, how this is violative of their rights, but I surely know how it is. And so I will stand in their shoes to advance these claims." So that's something I'm very interested in and I think we might see some of that going forward
I also think this idea of certification, who's going to adult court and when, is something that's getting a second look in a very way we haven't seen over time. Bringing to bear all the kinds of lessons we learned from Miller and Montgomery and Graham to think about mandatory certification in all instances. What kinds of information is considered at certification? If we should be rethinking this more fundamentally as generally violative of due process, and only the rare exception of the child should get certified. Whereas, in places like Florida it's just a norm that these kids are getting certified left, right and center.
Sarah: Will you talk more about, like access points to like, entering the system. You know, we talked about obviously school and prison pipeline, is this huge thing that like ... But what are like ...
Joann: I want to ask that question, and I also want to ask the bigger question of, you mentioned at the beginning of what you were talking ... Hold that thought because I'm going to ask that question. You mentioned at the beginning of what you were talking about, about the juvenile defense being the training ground, like for criminal defense and how inappropriate that is, given all of the specialized needs of a defense attorney who is representing a juvenile. I think one of the things that I've been just witnessing is that the more that the public, the legislature, the powers that be, are educated about, adolescent needs and traumatic experiences in childhood et cetera, the more people begin to say, "Hey, wait a second, let's start rethinking this." Kind of systemically and ... So you have the talking about all of this, but then you have the fundamental fact that you mentioned, which I find really interesting, "It's closed. It's closed, it's private, you can't see over here. It's protection of the children." So there's this kind of awareness that this needs to be happening but no kind of ...
Mae Quinn: Check and yeah, yeah.
Joann: ... public access to monitoring that.
Mae Quinn: Right, right. And I'll tell you, as an advocate, my position has shifted over time. I was long, long, you know, advocate for closing courtrooms, keeping people out of there. I now believe, just as we're seeing, in the Municipal Courts and other settings, court monitors to come in and watch. As you say, when the public sees and the public hears what might happen in a proceeding, I think they'd be shocked. Because if it was their child experiencing this, if it was their voice, as the mother, being silenced and told that, "You don't know what you're doing. We know better what's need for your kiddo," I think they'd be deeply disturbed. So that is one thing we're working on, is moving towards a model of ... Whether it's on a broad scale or you know, fine you want people to have pass certain background checks or this or that to be in juvenile court I think we need monitors in there. I think it needs to be more open, and I think if families knew that then this was for their protection, they'd be less concerned about it being an open versus closed setting. So I've, over the course of 20 years, changed my position drastically, on my feelings about that.
Joann: Are there any jurisdictions where it is more open?
Mae Quinn: Missouri, technically. That's how the Department of Justice got the information it needed to do its investigation. I mean, the powers that be sort of put the word out that they were super cooperative and the like, but they restricted them from seeing certain documents. Those were the cases that were involving alleged misdemeanors. Those are the most protected in Missouri, but if you read the law carefully, there are ways in which many people, who have an interest in the proceedings and maybe don't have an interest in the proceedings, could and should be able to access juvenile information, juvenile proceedings. And so I do think it might be a place for the press. It might be a place for documentary film makers and the like, to start saying, "You know, we need to shed greater light on this." So long as the kids and families have to have a knowing and intelligent buy-in to this, you know, like a true waiver. And perhaps it can still be done in ways that protect the name, the identity, but it's being currently used as a double-edged sword to protect the dysfunction and the due process violations.
Joann: To Sarah's point, could you talk a little bit about the different access points, of how people get into the system?
Mae Quinn: Yeah. So here too, things are different all around the country. The school to prison pipeline is alive and well in Missouri. I would say though, I personally don't believe it is as bad in Missouri, or in St. Louis, as it is in some other places where I've practiced. So for instance, in other places I've practiced the caseload is very high during the school year and drops during the summer. My experience here, it's different. It goes up in the summer because the kids have more free time. There are not as many kind of interventions by police just being brought into the schools. It does happen for sure. My experience with the schools here as an entry point, it's more that the Deputy Juvenile Officers are infiltrating the schools and directing and deploying people to go after and pick up kids. Entry points locally, we have 90 different points in the County of St. Louis, because we have nearly 90 different police departments. If it's hard to keep one police department accountable, think about how hard it is to keep 90.
I'm going to say, these are some of the most awful law enforcement agents I've encountered and I've practiced all over the country. I get calls from parents, calling me at 2:00 a.m., "The police are at the door declaring they have a warrant." I said, "Oh really? Open the door and let me talk to them." In fact they don't have a warrant, they have this thing called a wanted, it's a wide spread practice in this community. I've testified before the the Ferguson commission about it, that law enforcement, ill-trained, poorly trained law enforcement or ill-will, poorly intended law enforcement, use this as a tool to bring people into custody, for whom they have no probable cause. They can't get a warrant.
You can hold someone for 24 hours, until you get a warrant but you shouldn't use it as a ruse to shake things out of them. A Terry stop, an investigative stop is you're permitted to hold someone for very, very brief encounter, for a walk and talk, for a very brief engagement. They misrepresent and mislead families and as we said, get a call at 2:00 a.m. recently,"It's a warrant." I knew it wasn't. I said, "Ge- lemme talk to them." "Oh no, it's a wanted," and I said, "Well the you go away and you leave this family alone because you don't have probable cause and they don't want anything to do with you." It's like whack-a-mole, you've got 90 different police departments playing these kinds of games. They each have their own little take on how they're going to read the law and use it to their advantage. While there might be MOU's or agreements taking place between the court, and the Department of Justice, I don't have faith that it's trickling down to these folks at all.
So for instance, one of the parts of the agreement between the Department of Justice and St. Louis county is that, this idea that you're supposed to bring the kid quickly to the Deputy Juvenile Officer to get Mirandized. Once he's there the police are to leave him alone. You can't talk to him anymore. Like if you've done your interrogation, go away. You can't come back and keep accessing this kid. Well, we're hearing that local police are just then taking a longer time to get the detention center. Like okay, well, or they'll meet the kid over here. They can't do certain things at the detention center, well there's no prohibition on them doing it in the community or at the police station or wherever else they might be encountering these kids. So those are entry points. You know, this notion of walking while black, walking while brown. A lot of over-policing, using curfews, using ... We have a lot of kids who are put out of school and then put into ... Well, put out of school period or put into alternative schools that run shifts that end at 11:00 a.m.. So you might have a kid walking home from school, at 11:00 a.m.. And it says if the police department just pays no attention to that possibility, the very high chance you see a kid at that hour, that's where they might be coming from.
And so using those dysfunctions in the system, as a way to get at kids, pick them up, interrogate them and the like. So I don't know if that's responsive to entry points.
Joann: Blended sentencing?
Mae Quinn: So we have something called dual jurisdiction, which is very rarely used. It is seen as, by many, as a positive development in Missouri or a positive feature of Missouri law, where a young person who is in the adult system, so long as they're under 17 and a half, can be placed with DYS up until they're 21 and have a sentence kind of hanging over their head. If they do well in DYS, well then they'll be released at age 21 on probation. If they do poorly then they'll do their sentence. Tracy McClard, who you folks know about, her son Johnathon committed suicide after being denied dual jurisdiction and was in the adult court system. And so she's tried to bring a lot more attention to that option, to that possibility, that a lot of judges don't seem to be familiar with, a lot of public defenders aren't familiar with.
But the law's very imperfect. There's a lot of procedural snafus in it that make it hard to access and use. So there are very few, you know, across the board, cases where that kind of blended sentence or dual jurisdiction is applied. We also have this phenomenon of once certified there's no reverse waiver and no clear path to come back, which some other states have. It's not quite dual jurisdiction or blended sentencing but it allows this idea that once you're in adult court you might come back. Our system is just not set up for that.