Bail, juveniles, and judicial compassion: a tough intersection

Update 2: The Missoulian reports that on May 24, Isaiah was released following his evaluation, and went home with his grandmother, where his first priority was to get back on his skateboard.

Update: The day after I posted this, Isaiah was transferred to a residential facility for evaluation, and the $500,000 bail was removed. More details from the Billings Gazette. 

I’ve written occasionally, here and in Books, Crooks & Counselors, about factors that go in to decisions on bail, on the juvenile court system, and on the hard decisions judges sometimes have to make. A case playing out in my county right now illustrates the particularly tough situations that sometimes arise.

A young boy — 10 years old — is currently being held in the juvenile portion of a state mental health facility pending a psychiatric evaluation. He has a history of escalating violence, including throwing chairs at school and kicking other students. For a prior incident, he and his family agreed to probation — which he violated through the latest incidents. The District Judge set bail at $500,000 — an amount the family cannot meet — to ensure that he gets a psychiatric evaluation, which cannot be held for at least two more weeks.

Hal a million dollars? For a juvenile? For relatively minor incidents, with no personal injuries involved? It seems extreme, at first glance, and the family is protesting mightily — in court, outside the courthouse, and on Facebook.

But it makes more sense when you hear more facts — especially because a psychiatric evaluation is key to determining what treatment the child needs to resolve his problems — and the family has missed getting him to many of his regularly scheduled counseling sessions and three previously scheduled psych evals. The judge appears to be properly focused on the boy’s best interests, drawing on her experience and compassion as a judge, and no doubt, as a mother.  Story here from the Billings Gazette. I’ll keep you posted.

(Astute readers may wonder why this case is in state court, not tribal court, which typically handles juvenile cases on reservations, like the Flathead, which have ceded felony jurisdiction to the state but kept jurisdiction over misdemeanors and juveniles. Apparently the child is not an enrolled member of a tribe, although he is eligible for membership in a tribe in another state; he is considered a “descendant,” not a member, so jurisdiction belongs to the State of Montana rather than to the local tribal authorities.)

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