Trouble for teens

Published: April 18th, 2011

Category: Feature

Miredys GonzalezBy Miredys Gonzalez
Public Interest Law Fellow

The Florida Bar Foundation Public Interest Law Fellowship allowed me to work at the Juvenile Division of the offices of the public defender. The experience allowed me to enrich my passion for public interest work and it helped me gain knowledge on the area of criminal law.

After closely working with many teenagers, I came to the conclusion that the biggest problems these teens face are their families. I saw kids who did not have a place to live, kids whose parents stole their welfare benefits, kids who were physically and emotionally hurt by their parents, etc. While having trouble in your family is by no means an excuse to have a criminal record, working with these kids allowed me to better understand their emotions and behavior.

I noticed that families become a key element in the outcome of a case in the juvenile justice system. The few kids who had loving and supporting parents were the ones who obtained the best deals out of plea bargain. Good parents were active in the case, they asked questions when things were unclear, and they were patient with their teenagers. On the other hand, the kids whose parents were uncooperative had more trouble navigating the system. Unsupportive parents refused to drive the kids to court or pick the kids up at the detention center; the kids were unable to complete counseling or community service hours, which often resulted in a violation of probation. In addition, these parents pressured the kids to make a quick decision regarding their case.

As a certified legal intern in the Juvenile Division, many times, I had to ask the parents to let me speak to their kids in private because I did not want the parent’s opinion to interfere with the kid’s judgment. However, I knew the pressure was not fully alleviated.

Working for a year with the Juvenile Division allowed me to better understand how lucky I am to have people who support me. It is hard to understand people when you are not in their shoes, and it becomes easy to judge them. People sometimes think juvenile offenders are just troubled teens, failing to realize that the problem goes deeper into society.

One of my supervisors at the Public Defender’s Office volunteers in school programs designed for kids with behavioral issues. Sometimes a showing of love is all it takes to turn the lives of these kids around. After graduation I plan to be involved in community activities that can impact kids’ lives, and I encourage others to do the same.

Miredys Gonzalez is a 2010-11 Public Interest Law Fellow. The Public Interest Law Fellowship Program is funded by The Florida Bar Foundation to promote public interest law, and offered at the Levin College of Law by the Center for Governmental Responsibility.