|Here's the article on Yummy
Sandifer that appeared in TIME magazine on Septemebr 19, 1994:
To Our Readers
By ELIZABETH VALK LONG, PRESIDENT
Considering all the tragedy they come across in their jobs, reporters have to develop tough skins to survive. But when members of TIME's Chicago bureau fanned out in the city last week to reconstruct the short, shocking life of Robert Sandifer, known as Yummy, their journalistic reserve was sorely tested. In an intense three-day period of reporting, the Midwest bureau chief Jon Hull and reporter Julie Grace trekked through Robert's former neighborhood on Chicago's South Side, talking to friends -- and more often enemies -- about the slain 11-year-old. They searched out family members, spending time with both Yummy's mother and his grandmother. They pored through worn folders on Robert at Juvenile Court and the Department of Children and Family Services. Joined by photographer Steve Liss to produce this week's cover story, they found themselves as moved as we think readers will be by their work.
Grace was particularly shaken by the interviews she did with Robert's former neighbors. "It's depressing to hear them talk about murder as if it's an everyday thing," she says. "And it's just heartbreaking to talk to 10- and 11-year-olds who don't expect to live past 19. As I was leaving Yummy's block, a woman called out to me, 'When are you coming back? You've gotten to be my friend.' Sometimes stories get to you; this one left my stomach in knots." Hull, who wrote our cover story last year on kids and guns, realized after all his digging that Robert's death was sadly predictable. "After three days of reporting," he says, "I still couldn't decide which was more appalling: the child's life or the child's death."
Integral to the coverage were Liss's evocative black-and-white photographs. Liss, who has covered presidential elections for TIME since 1976 and has taken 18 cover photos -- including last year's on the Midwest floods -- was called in from vacation in Boston. Flying to Chicago, he went immediately to the scene of Robert's murder, where he found that someone had placed a single red rose. Later he joined Hull and Grace to retrace the steps of Robert's life. Most poignant of all was the funeral on Wednesday. Liss, who volunteers as a Big Brother, was struck that the victim, no matter how troubled, was just a little boy. "His grandmother kept wailing that someone should have been there for him, and I know that's true," says Liss. His photos of the scene, he says, were quite simply "the saddest pictures I've ever taken."
Murder In Miniature
At the age of 11, "Yummy" Sandifer killed and was killed. His short, violent life is a haunting tale.
By NANCY R. GIBBS
On a bright September afternoon last week, the mothers of Chicago's South Side brought their children to a vigil for a dead boy they had never met. They wanted their kids to see the scrawny corpse in the loose tan suit lying in a coffin, next to his stuffed animals, finally harmless. The big kids dragged the little kids up to look at the stitches on his face where the bullets fired into the back of his head had torn through. The only picture the family could find for the funeral program was a mug shot. "Take a good look," said the Rev. Willie James Campbell. "Cry if you will, but make up your mind that you will never let your life end like this."
Parents hoped to haunt their children; maybe fear would keep them safe. Lynn Jeneta, 29, took her nine-year-old son Ron. If he got scared enough, she decided, "maybe then he wouldn't be lying there himself one of these days." She pushed him right up to the coffin. Ron tried to stay calm. "Some kids said Yummy looked like he was sleeping, but he didn't look like he was sleeping to me." What exactly then did he look like? "Kind of like he was gone, you know?" His composure melts. "When Mama pushed me forward, I thought I was going to fall right in the damn coffin. That gives me nightmares, you know? Can you imagine falling into a coffin?"
Many who knew Robert ("Yummy") Sandifer better mourned him less. "Nobody didn't like that boy. Nobody gonna miss him," said Morris Anderson, 13. Anderson used to get into fistfights with Yummy, who received the nickname because of his love of cookies and Snickers bars. "He was a crooked son of a bitch," said a local grocer, who had barred him from the store for stealing so much. "Always in trouble. He stood out there on the corner and strong- armed other kids. No one is sorry to see him gone."
Nor, it seems, was anyone very surprised. The neighborhood was still grieving its other dead child, the girl Yummy allegedly killed two weeks ago, when he was supposed to fire on some rival gang members but shot 14-year-old Shavon Dean instead. Police descended on the gang, and Yummy became a liability. So he became a victim too. When he was found dead in a bloody mud puddle under a railway viaduct three days later, an entire city shuddered and clutched its children and looked for lessons.
The mayor of Chicago admitted that Yummy had slipped through the cracks. Just what cracks were those? The sharp crevices that trap children and break them into cruel little pieces. Chicago's authorities had known about Yummy for years. He was born to a teenage addict mother and a father now in jail. As a baby he was burned and beaten. As a student he often missed more days of school than he attended. As a ripening thug he shuttled between homes and detention centers and the safe houses maintained by his gang. The police arrested him again and again and again; but the most they could do under Illinois law was put him on probation. Thirteen local juvenile homes wouldn't take him because he was too young.
Before they grow up, these children can become walking weapons. One very mean little boy didn't grow up, so he became an icon instead. The crimes he committed -- and those he suffered -- shook the country's conscience in a way that violent acts with far larger body counts no longer do. "If ever there was a case where the kid's future was predictable, it was this case," says Cook County public guardian Patrick Murphy. "What you've got here is a kid who was made and turned into a sociopath by the time he was three years old." Yummy's mother Lorina called him, without irony, "an average 11-year-old." The courts and cops and probation officers and psychologists who tracked his criminal career all agree. "I see a lot of Roberts," says Cook County Circuit Judge Thomas Sumner, who handled charges against Yummy for armed robbery and car theft. "We see this 100 times a week," says Murphy.
The proof is in the paperwork -- worn folders inches thick, filed at the public guardian's office, the courts, the police headquarters and now the medical examiner's office. Yummy's files are indistinguishable from the records of thousands of other urban American kids. The evidence -- if more evidence is really necessary -- is overwhelming: when a child's brain is flooded, the child eventually drowns.
That was the verdict of a psychiatric evaluation last November. "Robert is emotionally flooded," the confidential report reads. "His response to the flooding is to back away from demanding situations and act out impulsively and unpredictably." The examiner asked him to complete the sentence "I am very . . ." "Sick," Yummy replied. The examiner saw a child full of self- hate, lonely, illiterate, wary. When he heard a walkie-talkie down the hall, he jumped from his seat, afraid of police. "You tryin' to trick me," he accused the examiner. There was not much doubt about how he came to be that way -- only about whether anyone or anything could save him.
Yummy's mother was the third of 10 children from four fathers -- she never knew her own. When she was 15 she had her first son Lorenzo, then Victor, then Yummy and eventually five more. She dropped out of 10th grade, found an apartment, went on welfare and nursed a crack habit. For a while she tried living with Yummy's father Robert Akins, who was convicted of drug and weapons charges. They soon split because he had "a rather angry and hot temper," she told a social worker.
So, apparently, did she. The first charge of child neglect was filed in 1984, when Lorina failed to follow doctors' orders for treating two-year-old Victor's eye condition. He eventually went blind. The following year 22-month- old Yummy arrived at Jackson Park Hospital covered with scratches and bruises. A few months later it was his sister, this time with second- and third-degree burns on her genitals. Lorina explained that the toddler had fallen on the radiator. An emergency-room nurse told the court that the injuries did not quite match the story. Someone probably held the child on the heater, the nurse testified.
The courts finally moved in a year later, when neighbors told police that the five children were routinely being left at home alone. By the time they removed the kids, Yummy was a bundle of anger and scars. He had long welts on his left leg; police suspected he was beaten with an electrical cord. There were cigarette burns on his shoulders and buttocks. "I never beat my kids," Lorina insists to this day. She says the scars were caused by chicken pox, not cigarettes. "I gave him all the attention I could," she says of Yummy, but admits there were distractions. Now 29, she has been arrested 41 times, mainly for prostitution.
"He shouldn't be dead," she says, sitting in her living room the day after his funeral. There is a white bucket in the corner with a live frog he caught a few weeks ago. "He liked to fish," she says. "People think he was a monster, but he was nice to me." She says she saw him regularly; he called her Reen instead of Mom, and, she admits, "he was always blaming me" for his problems. "They could have saved him and rehabilitated him," she insists. "When he started taking cars, they should have put him away then and given him therapy."
From early on, the child-welfare workers had little hope for Lorina as a parent. "There is no reason to believe that Lorina Sandifer will ever be able to adequately meet her own needs, let alone to meet the needs of her growing family," a psychiatrist reported to the juvenile court in 1986. And so Yummy and his brothers and sister were placed with his grandmother, Janie Fields, whom Yummy took to calling Mama. Her prognosis as a care giver was not much more promising. The psychiatric report described Fields as "a very controlling, domineering, castrating woman with a rather severe borderline personality disorder."
Neighbors in the black working-class neighborhood called Roseland still remember the day Janie Fields moved into a two-story, three-bedroom house with her brood: nearly all her 10 children and 30 grandchildren lived with her at one time or another. "They are dirty and noisy, and they are ruining the neighborhood," complained a neighbor. Residents launched an unsuccessful petition drive to force Fields out. "All those kids are little troublemakers," said Carl McClinton, 23, who lives down the street. "This is the kind of neighborhood where we all look after each other's kids, but they are a rougher breed."
The neighborhood kids describe two different Yummy Sandifers. There is the bully, the extortionist, the fierce fighter who would take on the big kids and beat them. "Yummy would ask you for 50 cents," says Steve Nelson, 11, "and if he knew you were scared and you gave him the money, he'd ask for another 50 cents." Erica Williams, 20, a neighbor, says, "You really can't describe how bad he really was. He'd curse you completely out. He broke in school, took money, burned cars."
Others recall a sweeter side. Lulu Washington sells discount candy out of her house, just across from Yummy's. "He just wanted love," she says. For that, he could be disarmingly kind. "He'd say thank you, excuse me, pardon me." He loved animals and basketball and had a way with bicycles. He once even merged two bikes into a single, working tandem. Those were the good times. "It always meant trouble when he was with a group," says Ollie Jones- Edwards, 54. "If he was alone, he was sweet as jelly."
Yummy liked great big cars, Lincolns and Cadillacs, says Micaiah Peterson, 17. "He could drive real well. It was like a midget driving a luxury car." Sometimes he hung out at the local garage, learning about alternators and fuel injectors. When he wasn't stealing cars, he was throwing things at them or setting them on fire. "What could you do?" asks McClinton. "Tell his grandmother? She'd yell at him, and he'd be right back on the street. If the police picked him up, they'd just bring him back home because he was too young to lock up. He was untouchable, and he knew that."
His odds of reaching the age of 12 dropped sharply when he fell in with the local Black Disciples gang. Several thousand or so gang members in Chicago are spread out across separate fiefdoms, led by "ministers" in their 30s and 40s who are always recruiting children. There is plenty of work for everyone: car theft, drug running, prostitution, extortion, credit-card fraud. Police suspect that gang leaders use the little ones as drug runners and hit men because they are too young to be seriously punished if they are caught.
On the other hand, they aren't likely to last long. "If you make it to 19 around here, you are a senior citizen," says Terrance Green, 19. "If you live past that, you're doing real good." A Black Disciple named Keith, 17, describes the role the youngest members play: "He's this small little punk but wants a name, right? So you make him do the work. 'Hey, homey, get me a car. A red car. A red sports car. By tonight. I'm taking my woman out. Or hey, homey, go find me $50. Or hey, little homey, you wanna be big? Go pop that nigger that's messing with our business."
Yummy averaged a felony a month for the last year and a half of his life; 23 felonies and five misdemeanors in all. Ann O'Callaghan, a lawyer and assistant public guardian, met Yummy once, last December in court. She was astounded by his size and demeanor. "Some of these kids we represent are ominous characters. But I had to bend over, and I was like, 'Hi! My name is Ann, and I'm your lawyer.' I couldn't believe it." Yummy wasn't the least bit intimidated by the courtroom. "It was like he was just sitting there waiting for a bus."
Last fall Yummy was placed with the Lawrence Hall Youth Services, which runs homes for troubled teenagers. He ran away in February and went back to his grandmother until June, when he spent two weeks in a detention facility. In July, Yummy and his cousin Darryl went on a church trip to Six Flags Great America, an hour north of the city. "Yummy couldn't get on most of the rides," Darryl says. "He was too small." On another day a neighbor, Ida Falls, took Yummy and 12 other kids to the local police station to see a film on crime. The cops asked her not to bring him back because he got into fights with other children. On Aug. 15 he was charged in another burglary. By Aug. 28 he would be firing the fatal bullets -- and it would be too late.
Falls' niece Shavon Dean lived around the corner from Yummy and had known him growing up. One August Sunday night she was sitting in the kitchen eating Doritos, while her mother Deborah was out back grilling ribs and chicken for a family barbecue. Shavon slipped out for a few minutes to walk a friend home. She never made it back.
George Knox, a gang researcher at Chicago State University, believes Yummy was sent on a specific mission of revenge sparked by a drug feud or a personal insult. "If it was just an initiation ceremony, he'd do it from a car. But to go right up to the victims, that means he was trying to collect some points and get some rank or maybe a nice little cash bonus." Yummy opened fire with a 9-mm semiautomatic into a crowd of kids playing football. Sammy Seay, 16, was struck in the hand. "I hit the ground," says Seay. "It was the second or third shot before I knew I had been shot. So I got up and I just ran, trying to save my life." Shavon was struck in the head and died within minutes. "Shavon never got a chance, never got a chance," her mother says.
Yummy spent the last three days of his life on the run. Gang members shuttled him between safe houses and abandoned buildings as police swooped down on the neighborhood, searching for the shooter, followed by a flock of reporters. Gang leaders felt the pressure. "He was like a trapped animal with everyone after him," says Knox. "He was the hunter, and then he was the prey."
Maybe Yummy figured out that the gang's protection was not worth much. Janie Fields last spoke to Yummy Wednesday afternoon before he died. "He said, 'What is the police looking for me for?' I said, 'I'm coming to get you.' I had clothes with me 'cause I knew he was probably filthy and dirty. My heart was racing. I said, 'You ain't done nothing wrong, just let me come and get you.' " The phone went dead. She went to 95th Street, where he said he would be. "He wasn't there."
But he appeared that night on a neighbor's porch, visibly frightened, asking that she call his grandmother so he could turn himself in. He asked if they could say a prayer together. The neighbor went to make the call, and when she came back, he was gone. The police can only guess what happened next. Derrick Hardaway, 14, and his brother Cragg, 16, both honor students and fellow gang members, found Yummy and promised that they could help him get out of town. They drove him to a railroad underpass, a dark tunnel marbled with gang graffiti. Yummy's body was found lying in the mud, with two bullet wounds in the back of his head.
Now it's the Hardaway brothers' turn. Authorities say gang leaders, who can easily order hits in any prison in the state, may have the Hardaways targeted next. Both boys were arrested and are being held in protective custody. As for the other children in Yummy's neighborhood, when they are asked what would make them feel safer, most give the same answer: getting a gun. Among other things, it would protect them from the children who already have them.
There were those who were missing Yummy last week, those who had seen the child and not the killer. "Everyone thinks he was a bad person, but he respected my mom, who's got cancer," says Kenyata Jones, 12. Yummy used to come over to Jones' house several times a month for sleep-overs. "We'd bake cookies and brownies and rent movies like the old Little Rascals in black and white," says Jones. "He was my friend, you know? I just cried and cried at school when I heard about what happened," he says, plowing both hands into his pants pockets for comfort before returning to his house to take care of his mother. "And I'm gonna cry some more today, and I'm gonna cry some more tomorrow too."
When Kids Go Bad
America's juvenile-justice system is antiquated, inadequate and no longer able to cope with the violence wrought by children whom no one would call innocents
By RICHARD LACAYO
Frank Jackson knows something about violent crime. As head of the Dangerous Offenders Task Force in Wake County, North Carolina, he's been around his share. Even so, this tape makes him cringe. It's a 911 call made to police the night of July 27. A young woman is phoning for help from her apartment in Fuquay-Varina, about 15 miles from Raleigh. Just before the tape goes dead -- police believe the phone was ripped from the wall -- she can be heard screaming, "Don't harm my baby!" Jackson knows what happened next. Over the next several minutes she was beaten bloody with a mop handle and raped. The attacker was a neighbor who had apparently become infatuated with her. The woman, who survived, is 22. The accused rapist, Andre Green, is 13.
Green will be the first youthful offender tried under a North Carolina law passed earlier this year that permits children as young as 13 to be tried as adults. If convicted of rape, Green, who confessed to the crime but has no previous criminal record, will not be eligible for parole for 20 years. Jackson, who will prosecute the case, thinks Green is somebody who can't be let off lightly. He also wonders if lengthy confinement won't make Green worse. "It's kind of scary to think what kind of monster may be created," Jackson says. "He could be released at the age of 33 after having been raised in the department of corrections with some of the most hardened criminals North Carolina has to offer."
The American juvenile-justice system was designed 100 years ago to reform kids found guilty of minor crimes. Increasingly these days, the system is overwhelmed by the Andre Greens, by pint-size drug runners and by 16-year-old gunmen. The response on the part of lawmakers has been largely to siphon the worst of them out of that system by lowering the age at which juveniles charged with serious crimes -- usually including murder, rape and armed assault -- can be tried in adult courts. Last week California Governor Pete Wilson signed a bill lowering the threshold to 14. Earlier this year Arkansas did the same, and Georgia decided that youths from the ages of 14 through 17 who are charged with certain crimes will be tried as adults automatically. This being election time, candidates around the country are engaged in a kind of reverse auction to see who would send even younger felons to the adult system. Fourteen? Why not 13? Why not 12?
Even if the spectacle of politics coming to grips with pathology is not pretty, who can deny that when 11-year-olds like Robert ("Yummy") Sandifer kill or when a 14-year-old drives nails into the heels of a younger boy -- a recent episode from Somerset, Pennsylvania -- there is good reason to be unnerved? A breeding ground of poverty and broken families and drugs and guns and violence, real or just pictured, has brought forth a violent generation. "We need to throw out our entire juvenile-justice system," says Gil Garcetti, the District Attorney of Los Angeles County, whose biggest headache, after the O.J. trial, is the city's youth gangs. "We should replace it with one that both protects society from violent juvenile criminals and efficiently rehabilitates youths who can be saved -- and can differentiate between the two."
During the past six years, there has been a significant increase in juvenile crime in the most serious categories: murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Homicide arrests of kids ages 10 through 14 rose from 194 to 301 between 1988 and 1992. In 1986 a majority of cases in New York City's Family Court were misdemeanors; today more than 90% are felonies. Though killers under the age of 15 are still relatively rare -- over the past three years in L.A., for instance, those 14 or younger accounted for just 17 of the 460 homicides committed by kids under 18 -- younger kids are increasingly involved in deadlier crime. "There is far more gratuitous violence and far more anger, more shooting," says Judge Susan R. Winfield, who presides over the Family Division of the Washington, D.C., Superior Court. "Youngsters used to shoot each other in the body. Then in the head. Now they shoot each other in the face."
Gunfire has become sufficiently common in and around classrooms, mostly in the inner city, that an astonishing number of schools have started to treat their own corridors as potential crime scenes. Some are tearing out lockers to deny hiding places for handguns or banning carryalls and bookbags for the same reason.
No segment of society is immune to the problem. The most famous youthful offenders of the '90s, Erik Menendez, at 19, of Beverly Hills, California, and Amy Fisher, at 17, of Merrick, Long Island, came from mostly white communities of nice houses. But it's in the inner cities where an interlocking universe of guns, gangs and the drug trade has made mayhem a career path for kids and equipped them with the means to do maximum damage along the way. Children ) involved in the drug trade get guns to defend themselves against older kids who want their money. For the ones still on a piggy-bank budget, the streets offer rent-a-guns for $20 an hour. Who can be surprised, then, that on a typical day last year about 100,000 juveniles were in lockup across the country?
With the omnibus crime bill that just squeezed through Congress, the Federal Government made its partial gesture toward a solution. Under the new law, it's a crime for juveniles to possess a handgun or for any adult to transfer one to them except in certain supervised situations. It also provides for programs -- like those that keep schools open later -- intended to discourage kids from finding trouble.
Those were the very provisions that some Republicans denounced as "pork." Yet while crime control can be one of the most contentious issues in American life, there is something resembling an emerging ideological consensus on one thing: some kids are beyond help. You can hear it even when talking with Attorney General Janet Reno, who believes crime has its roots among neglected children. She still stresses the need for "a continuum" of government attention that begins with prenatal care and includes the school system, housing authorities, health services and job-training programs. But she also recognizes that the continuum will sometimes end in an early jail cell. "It's imperative for serious juvenile offenders to know they will face a sanction," she says. "Too many of them don't understand what punishment means because they have been raised in a world with no understanding of reward and punishment."
A consensus is also developing about the juvenile-justice system. It takes forever to punish kids who seriously break the law, and it devotes far too much time and money to hardened young criminals while neglecting wayward kids who could still be turned around. "We can't look a kid in the eye and tell him that we can't spend a thousand dollars on him when he's 12 or 13 but that we'll be happy to reserve a jail cell for him and spend a hundred grand a year on him later," says North Carolina attorney general Mike Easley. "It's not just bad policy; it's bad arithmetic."
For some experienced offenders, the prospect of jail can make a real difference in their decisions about what crimes they are willing to commit. L.A.'s Garcetti recalls the calculating questions of a teen who raised his hand when the district attorney appeared at a detention center last April. "If I kill someone," the kid asked, "can I be executed?"
"Not at this age, no," said Garcetti.
"What if I kill more than one person?"
"Under current California law, you cannot be executed."
"Right now, I'm under 16. If I kill someone, I get out of prison when I'm 25, right?"
"Right," said Garcetti, who eventually cut off the unnerving questions by predicting, "People are so tired, so fearful and so disgusted that I think you're going to see some real changes in juvenile laws."
But few young offenders are so calculating. "These kids don't think before they do things," insists Dwayne of Atlanta, at 18 a seasoned criminal whose list of felony arrests includes armed robbery and assault. "It ain't like they stop to think, 'Now what they gonna do to me if I get caught?' " Nearby, 17-year-old DeMarcus (grand-theft auto, aggravated assault) sums up another problem: prison doesn't usually last forever, and life on the outside is an open invitation to go bad again. "They send you straight back into the same situation," he says. "The house is dirty when you left it, and it's dirty when you get back."
So the people who work with young offenders generally favor punishment for some and something like tough love for the rest. The larger problem, as always, is figuring which of the best-intended programs are better than jail cells. "Nobody has tracked the process carefully enough to find out who is good at it, in what states and by what means," says James Q. Wilson, the well-known authority on crime policy at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Knowing what works might help the Florida judge who has to decide this week on what to do about Percy Campbell. Eighteen months ago, Percy was a 12-year- old arrested for attempted burglary in northwest Fort Lauderdale. As it turned out, he already had more than 30 arrests for a total of 57 crimes on his rap sheet, some of them felonies. No surprise -- he also had a mother in jail for murder and an uncle who had taught him how to steal cars.
Dennis Grant, a church elder in Fort Lauderdale, thought he could help. He gained permission to have Percy placed in the custody of his grandmother, whom Grant arranged to have relocated from a neighborhood ruled by the crack trade. The boy stayed out of trouble until June, when he broke into a neighbor's home. So it now appears that his grandmother's home wasn't the best place to ! be. She was arrested on shoplifting charges last week. This week a Broward County judge decides whether to try Percy as an adult or to turn him back to Grant one more time. "These kids can be changed," Grant insists. "We need to break the cycle." The prosecutors demur. "This child is being glorified," grumbles assistant state attorney Susan Aramony. "Maybe it's time to spend the resources on someone else who may benefit from them."
Percy's case highlights a key dilemma: how to distinguish kids who may be beyond change from the ones who aren't. In an article in this month's Commentary, James Q. Wilson observes that numerous studies of young criminals tend toward a shared conclusion: in any given age group, only 6% of the boys will be responsible for at least half of the serious crimes committed by all boys of that age. What do those kids have in common? Criminal parents, many of them -- more than half of all kids in long-term juvenile institutions in the U.S. have immediate relatives who have been incarcerated. A low verbal- intelligence quotient and poor grades are also common. The boys tend to be both emotionally cold and impulsive. From an early age they drink and get high. By an early age too, they make their first noticeable trouble, sometimes around the third grade.
If every offender who fit that profile were beyond help, judges would know better which kids to consign to lockups. They aren't all beyond help, so authorities stumble around in the dark. Indeed, the records of young offenders are generally closed, so previous offenses aren't always disclosed to judges who rule on subsequent ones. When New York State passed its juvenile-offender law in 1978, the outcome was regarded as the toughest new arrangement in the nation. On the surface, it was: those from 13 through 15 accused of heinous felonies were moved from Family Court, where the maximum penalty was 18 months regardless of the crime, to the State Supreme Court. But the law allows only for lighter sentences than would be given to adults who are convicted of equivalent crimes -- meaning the kids are often back on the streets in a few years, jobless, with a felony conviction that makes employment more difficult to find. The inadequacies of the system led Justice Michael Corriero to push for the creation of the job he now holds. He takes on all juvenile-offender cases that come through Manhattan Supreme Court. In this capacity, he has the power to fashion a midway solution for some offenders, determining whether to send convicted kids to hard time or, if he believes them salvageable, to a community-based program that keeps close tabs while offering drug counseling, job training or schooling. Still, says Corriero, "even though the legislature gave us the bodies of these kids, they gave us no support services. We don't have a probation-department representative who tells me the Family Court history. We don't have any mental-health services to refer them to. We don't have any residential programs. We don't have any resources that the Family Court has."
Corriero wants to return all the cases to Family Court but give judges discretion to bat the worst kids back to stand trial as adults. That won't work, says Peter Reinharz, who heads the Family Court Division. It would still load too many desperate characters into a system underequipped to deal with them. "I don't know what the solution is," says Reinharz, but "I can tell you what it isn't. You're looking at it."