Archive for Thursday, April 8, 2010

Judge seeks Mental Health Court for youngsters before she retires

Judge Jean Shepherd stepping down from bench on Jan. 11

April 8, 2010

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Judge Jean Shepherd is retiring effective Jan. 11, but before leaving the bench, she’s intent on finishing a job she started two years ago.

Her task: Establish what would be the country’s third Mental Health Court for youth offenders, one dedicated specifically for kids and families in Douglas County.

“My plan is to get this started and implemented before I leave,” Shepherd told county commissioners Wednesday evening, disclosing her retirement plans.

Shepherd’s immediate plan — to secure a $50,000 federal grant, to be matched with in-kind contributions from the county — would create a specific docket in Douglas County District Court to handle cases involving youths who have mental illnesses or developmental disabilities.

A case, she said, might involve a 10- or 11-year-old kid with a mental illness, someone who might throw a chair at a teacher and end up facing a juvenile charge. The student would come before a judge, admit to the offense, and then accept a sentence that might include specific treatment programs, typically involving their families as well.

Offenders successfully completing such a program — which likely would start with weekly meetings with the judge, then continue through less-frequent follow-ups — would be allowed to withdraw their earlier guilty pleas.

“It’s like a diversion,” Shepherd said.

The program would be able to handle no more than 10 youths at a time, she said. The goal would be to reduce probation violations and otherwise cut recidivism rates by addressing problems through treatment programs, rather than occupying space on a court docket or in a room at the Juvenile Detention Facility.

As she learned teaching years ago in Wyandotte County, progress can be measured in small but significant amounts.

“For me,” she told commissioners, “success is one child a year.”

Shepherd indeed taught English at Washington High School in Wyandotte County before becoming an attorney and going to work in the district attorney’s office, then in private practice. She was appointed to the bench in 1984, and has gone on to dedicate much of her work to family law and juvenile cases.

She doesn’t plan to stand for retention, instead opting to retire — but not without making yet another push to stand up for youths who need help, to help steer them away from a path that’s not good for themselves, their families or their communities.

“Eventually, these kids will be in jail,” Shepherd said. “If we don’t catch it now … it just accelerates.”

Comments

Paula Kissinger 4 years, 11 months ago

With her retirement the county is losing one of the best child advocates it has ever employed. I have known Jean for over 40 years and for her to see that this provision for those in need is normal, for her, but to ensure it's implementation before she leaves the bench is, to me, her greatest work of all.

As a parent of a developmentally disabled teenager, I fully understand that this is a necessity. These children are not criminals...they are unable to control their emotions for many years without medical and mental interventions and to have them arrested for something that really is out of their control is a travesty. They need to be integrated into society so they can improve their social skills but many find difficulty in doing so...quite a few with inappropriate behaviors and askew thinking.

To watch Jean bring the two things dearest to her, children and the law, together in such a productive way for the individuals and the court system is pure genius. But, then again, it is just the genius of Jean.

rbwaa 4 years, 11 months ago

I am sorry to see Judge Shepherd leave the bench. She has definitely been a beacon of hope for all children who have come before her. Her goal of establishing a mental health court is a wonderful idea. Too many of the children in juvenile court have mental health problems; their parents have given up on many of them being at a loss as to how to manage their problems. Many of the others are long term foster care children who suffered extreme abuse and neglect and have given up on themselves. It is important for them to be thrown a lifeline before this happens and to prevent them from being "lost in the system."

equalaccessprivacy 4 years, 11 months ago

Sometimes administrators and teachers or others abusing power might be more of a problem than a child brought before the court.What kind of checks and balances can Douglas County implement so kids or citizens challenging crooked abuses of power don't get blamed and held responsible for bogus crimes or even have the stigma and labels of needing mental health forced upon them? The justice system in Douglas County is broken and run by robber barons. Isn't forcing someone to plead guilty a perversion of the American way?

costello 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm sorry to hear that Judge Shepherd is retiring.

gollygee 4 years, 10 months ago

Quoting Pit Bull Grandma, above, as she salutes Jean Shepherd nearing her term of employment: "...the two things she holds dearest--children and the law."

But American law does not hold children dear. The term "custody", despite its puddingy sound, is the very same one used for the description of the desired,and dedicated, ownership/control of prisoners.

asacollier 4 years, 6 months ago

I received partiality by judge Shepard. Inconsistent and one sided. She is a child advocate for mothers. I hear people sing her praises. I doubt you will hear this mumbo from fathers who have had one sided decisions from a court with Policy.
I fear for kids in this "mental" court will be pigeon holed, institutionalized and given the same policy over common sense treatment.

Good riddance. I hope they do not receive matching funds or a grant for a retiring judges jollies.

This probably won't make the news because it is also one sided and policy based.

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