Parents, treatment providers, superior court judges and juvenile court administrators are fighting back against a state rule that prohibits issuing arrest warrants for juveniles unless they’re deemed a serious threat to public safety.
Under Juvenile Court Rule 7.16, any juvenile on probation who violates a court order — by not going to treatment, counseling or otherwise disobeying the court — or fails to appear in court doesn’t have to worry about being arrested for those violations.
The Washington State Supreme Court held a virtual meeting Oct. 12 with opponents of JuCR 7.16, including the Superior Court Judges’ Association and the Washington Association of Juvenile Court Administrators.
Family members of young people involved with the juvenile justice system spoke out against the rule, saying while it accounts for juveniles who pose a public safety threat, it fails to protect juveniles who are a threat to themselves.
Karen Mobley testified that when her granddaughter violated court orders while on probation for felony assault, failed to appear in court and ran away from home, she could not get the courts to issue an arrest warrant to get her off the streets because of JuCR 7.16.
“When I needed the court’s help the most, I couldn’t get the help I needed,” Mobley said. “I cried at night wondering where she was, wondering if she was hurt, raped or dead.”
Mobley said her granddaughter eventually came home, pregnant, bearing more trauma than when she left and facing a long road to recovery.
“I wish we could have intervened sooner,” Mobley said.
The situation with Mobley and her granddaughter is far from unique. Parents, guardians and community members across the state contacted SCJA and WAJCA to share how JuCR 7.16 has led to dire consequences for their children and their families.
In some cases, the situation escalates the longer a juvenile is left to their own devices in spite of court order violations. Sometimes, it ends up with the juvenile hurting someone else
When a father asked a juvenile court in Mason County, to detain his son, who had threatened and assaulted him, the court declined to issue an arrest warrant because the threat “was not immediate.” The next day, the child was arrested for allegedly stabbing a man at a local park.
A young person under supervision for assault and property offenses in Spokane County violated their probation and while an arrest warrant was issued, it was quashed due to JuCR 7.16. Soon after that decision, the young person was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
In cases where children have mental health issues or substance abuse disorders, but refuse treatment, sometimes the only way for parents to get their child the help they need is by placing them in juvenile detention so they can stabilize enough to accept treatment.
Due to the challenges presented by JuCR 7.16, treatment providers who would normally be on the frontlines of helping rehabilitate juveniles who come into the system with substance abuse or mental health issues are left feeling helpless.
“While our state experiences a staggering fentanyl crisis among our teens, the people who used to be able to help, now watch, unable,” said Halle Goldner, youth counselor for Catholic Community Services. “We are seeing kids pass away before they get the chance to grow up.”
Jered Carter, clinical director with Sundown M Ranch, said juveniles who previously agreed to be diverted into treatment programs rather than be put in juvenile detention are learning that there’s little-to-no consequences for abandoning court-ordered treatment facilities.
“As treatment providers, we need to have the ability to use the existence of legal consequences as the alternative if the youth chooses not to follow the court orders and engage in treatment services,” Carter said.
When that doesn’t happen, the juveniles can end up hurting themselves, intentionally or unintentionally.
According to one mom in Snohomish County, when her 15-year-old daughter consumed drugs in the home in violation of her probation, the court refused to issue an arrest warrant under JuCR 7.16. Now, the girl’s whereabouts are unknown.
In Okanogan County, a 17-year-old girl with mental health and substance abuse issues ran away from her court-ordered treatment and no arrest warrant was issued. It took several more violations before the court agreed to issue an arrest warrant.
However, by then, it was too late. The mother reportedly contacted the court to let them know that her child had reached Lewiston, Idaho, got access to a firearm and shot herself.
“One of the most significant difficulties with this rule is our inability to help families in crisis,” SJCA president Judge Jennifer Forbes said. “Looking into the eyes of a parent or grandparent who’s standing in front of me in court, begging me to help them with their child, who is in danger and in crisis, is agonizing.”
When JuCR 7.16 went into effect in 2020, it was just an emergency rule aimed at addressing COVID-19 concerns by ensuring the juvenile detention centers weren’t crowded with kids who didn’t need to be there and were at risk of getting sick.
However, it was made into a permanent rule in 2021 and has continued to govern the way warrants are issued and quashed for juveniles in Washington State.
“We’ve received notice that SCJA and WAJCA object to both the substance of the rule and the process of its adoption,” Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven González said.
Both organizations have asked for JuCR 7.16 to be rescinded in its entirety or, if not, at least be amended to provide more clarification to courts and to include that warrants based on court orders are allowed if juvenile poses a threat to public or individual safety.
“People of good faith can disagree about whether this rule should be rescinded, retained or modified,” González said. “I believe all of us believe that there’s hope for rehabilitation for juveniles and the struggle is finding the right way to effect that promise of hope.”
The Washington State Supreme Court is accepting public comment on this issue as they work on how to move forward. You can submit a comment to the Clerk of the Supreme Court via mail to P.O. Box 40929, Olympia, Washington 98504-0929.
You can also email a comment — limited to 1,500 words — to the clerk at [email protected] The deadline to submit comments is April 30, 2023.
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