As a Brooklyn criminal defense attorney, I have a lot of experience with troubled youth. There is no single prescription for helping them turn things around, but my experience has shown me that young adults in trouble tend to lack the psychological self-awareness necessary to understand the roots of their behavior and learn to control their impulses.
My belief is that adolescents can often benefit from professional counseling, even those not already in trouble. For those who have behavior problems that get them in trouble at school or with police, counseling is imperative. The main challenge, of course, is to get young people and their parents to “buy in” to therapy as an opportunity for growth, not as a symbol of personal or parental failure.
Often, when teenagers and young adults engage in behavior that leads to police involvement, the behavior should be viewed as a cry for help. I also believe that police, prosecutors, and judges want to believe the same thing. But they also know that some kids and young adults simply do not have the kind of support necessary to answer the cry. When that is the case, the State will step in to fill the void — one way or another. It is my job to help convince judges and prosecutors that the family and the individual know what they need to do and are taking the necessary steps to correct misbehavior so the State can turn to those truly in need of intervention.
From an attorney’s perspective, simply defending the case does not answer the young person’s cry for help. Even if I get the case dismissed, without counseling and other life-changes, the problem is likely to recur. Therefore, I believe in taking a “holistic approach” to each case, which is designed to create a positive overall experience out of a negative incident. While the “heavy lifting” must still be done by the young person and his family, I try to use the incident as a motivator and opportunity for real change.
The first step is to engage support services soon after an arrest has occurred. Strategically, judges and prosecutors appreciate that a defendant has decided to take positive action before being ordered to do so. But even if the young person is 100% innocent, and the case could be dismissed or won at trial, the young person needs to appreciate the gravity of the situation and learn to examine past misbehavior or unhealthy friendships in productive ways.
In sum, I try to help families “treat the patient, not just the symptom.” A professional counselor will provide a safe, confidential environment for the young person to discuss life with an adult who is skilled at creating a relationship of trust. Only good can come of that.
If your child or a young person you know is in trouble, you should contact a criminal attorney who has experience representing juvenile offenders to discuss ways to approach the case itself as well as ways to create positive change.