juvenile justice

Worcester MA Arts program offers troubled youth a chance at creativity

Juvenile Probation Officer Fiona Bycroft-Ryder stands in front of Arts Alternative, an exhibit featuring the work by young people in the juvenile court in the Worcester Trial Court lobby. Photo by Christine Hochkeppel.

Juvenile Probation Officer Fiona Bycroft-Ryder stands in front of Arts Alternative, an exhibit featuring the work by young people in the juvenile court in the Worcester Trial Court lobby. Photo by Christine Hochkeppel.

The paintings, drawings and sculptures on display last week in the Worcester Trial Court lobby reflected a wide range of artistic abilities, but the young artists who created them all had one thing in common.

Each has had some involvement with the Worcester County Juvenile Court and each was referred by a judge or probation officer to Arts Alternative, a collaborative effort of the juvenile court and the Worcester Art Museum.

The idea behind the program, now in its fifth year, is to offer troubled youths, from truants and runaways to those deemed delinquent by reason of criminal activity, an introduction to art as a means of positive development and as an option to violence, substance abuse and other negative behavior, according to Fiona Bycroft-Ryder, a juvenile court probation officer.

Participants, ranging in age from 9 to 18, meet once a month at the Worcester Art Museum, where volunteer docent Ginny B. Powell-Brasier takes them on a guided tour and talks with them about specific works of art that are part of the museum’s collection. Then they spend about 90 minutes in a studio with an art instructor doing hands-on activities.

The works of art that result are eventually displayed in a community setting, like the art museum or the courthouse. Most of the participants, many of whom come from low-income or unstable environments, had never been to the art museum before becoming involved in the program, according to Ms. Bycroft-Ryder.

“But what’s nice is we find some young people keep coming to the program even when they’re no longer on probation. Sometimes they’ll bring a friend of a family member,” she said.

The museum has offered scholarships in the past to participants who “have shown artistic talent and want to get more out of it,” Ms. Bycroft-Ryder said.

An exhibit of the participants’ creative efforts was on display last Thursday in the first-floor lobby of the Worcester Trial Court at 225 Main St. Some of the artwork is expected to remain there through the end of this week. The works included paintings, pastels, pencil drawings, clay sculptures, collages and murals.

About 40 people attended the April 20 reception.

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The Truth About Juvenile False Confessions

Photo courtesy of Between The Lines,  Ashley Nellis .

Photo courtesy of Between The Lines, Ashley Nellis.


American Bar Association, Winter 2016, by Megan Crane, Laura Nirider & Steven A. Drizin. 

L et’s start with a thought experiment. Picture yourself as a thirteen-year-old boy, sitting in your middle school in the midst of class. Without warning, your principal enters your classroom, tells you to come with him, and brings you to a small room in the school’s front office. There, three police officers—each wearing a holstered gun—are waiting for you. One officer leaves the room and closes the door behind him, but the detective, the sergeant, and the principal remain in the room with you. They sit you down. They surround you.

The detective reads you the Miranda rights and immediately proceeds to accuse you of inappropriately touching your neighbor’s three-year-old sister. She does not ask if you did this. Instead, she says that she knows you did this; she has no doubt of your guilt because the evidence proves it; and now you just need to help yourself by telling her the truth. (In reality, this detective has no evidence; she has not conducted any investigation and has no reliable reason to presume your guilt.)

Shocked, you respond by stammering out the truth: you did not inappropriately touch that little girl. In fact, you say this over ten times. The detective refuses to listen and tells you that if you take a lie detector test, it will “come back deceptive because you’re lying.” Her accusations become increasingly specific and more detailed, providing you with her exact theory about how the alleged crime occurred. When you start crying, she tells you that the only way you can help yourself is to confess.

***

This story may shock you—and it should. The tactics used by police to steamroll a child into confessing to a crime can offend our most basic notions of fairness and justice, not to mention the presumption of innocence that our criminal justice system is supposed to provide. But, while shocking, the sad truth is that this story is all too common. 

Read the full article here.