Child Advocacy Practicum Hosts “Advocating for our Adolescents” Forum

Hurt people hurt people. It’s a vicious cycle that oftentimes began in the home for many United States juveniles lost within the pipeline.

On Thursday, November 19, Regent University School of Law’s (LAW) Child Advocacy Practicum hosted “Advocating for our Adolescents,” a panel discussion exploring what serves “the best interest of the child” in the realm of crime and punishment.

Special guests were brought to campus by Brittany Tabb ’16 (LAW), who currently works with Lynne Kohm, associate dean of LAW Faculty Development & External Affairs and the Child Advocacy Program, and The Clapham Group, which represents clients to address modern-day injustices.

Abby Skeans ’14 (LAW), an associate at The Clapham Group, took the practicum at Regent when the program was in its infancy. Kohm said that she is happy to see her students care for such important issues such as making sure incarcerated children are “treated like human beings.”

“I knew Brittany was very interested in juveniles as in terms of the legal requirement for how to treat children when they’re in court. I knew it should be Brittany, and she’s done a great job,” said Kohm. “She just has a heart for this.”

The juvenile reform panel included Judge Patricia West, distinguished professor and associate dean of students in LAW, and Linda Filippi, executive director of Tidewater Youth Services Commission. Together they discussed the past, present and future of juvenile justice reform in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“I believe that prevention is cheaper than correction,” said Gabriel Morgan Sr., sheriff of Newport News, Virginia, who was present for the panel. He said the “do the crime, do the time” philosophy of punishing non-violent juvenile delinquents is nothing more than a “codification of sound bytes.”

He noted that it takes up to $31,000 a year to house one adult in a correctional facility and $155,000 to place one juvenile. On the flip side, $8,000-$9,000 is the average annual cost per student for K-12 education.

“We need to put our money up front and help them read, so that we don’t have to pay in the back end,” said Morgan.

According to Linda Bryant, deputy attorney general for Virginia’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Division, children who witness traumas at a young age are more likely to replicate them. This is why she believes in a mentorship, having spent much of her career finding children who had run away – and even going so far as to become a godmother to a six-year-old client who had witnessed her mother’s violent death.

“If you’re a decent person, you can’t turn your back when the case is done,” said Bryant. For Judge Randall Blow, who serves in the Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court, the solution for dropping crime statistics among juveniles is finding more programs for parents.

“Children have to learn that they can’t walk all over authority,” said Blow. “Most of the time this happens, because ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.'”

He called for a “creative” and more flexible sentencing process that has less “zero tolerance policies” and uses “common sense.” To him, “sparing the rod” isn’t always an effective method for crime-prevention.

But for Gina Lyles, program leader at Art 180 Atlas Center, “prisons don’t work.” By many accounts, Lyles admittedly fits the description: witnessed trauma at a young age, an absent father figure, and a mother who was in and out of drug recovery programs. It was this chronic trauma which led her to landing in what she calls the “prison pipeline” herself at the age of 23.

“What helped me was watching my mother recover – she is my role model,” said Lyles. “I went to therapy and acquired self-love and became a part of society.”

Following the panel, artwork from Art 180 Atlas Center was featured in Robertson Hall. Lyles continues to serve and use her poetry and musical gifts to advocate for youth justice.

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