The Relationship between Truancy Court and Law Enforcement

By Andy Hoverman, CFCC Student Fellow 2010-2011

Like another CFCC Student Fellow, I also come to the CFCC Student Fellows Program with a perspective largely from law enforcement. The area of the law that has interested me the most has been criminal law (with family law a close second). Most of my internships/clerkships have been in the criminal area of the law. At first glance, it may seem as though the concepts of therapeutic jurisprudence and preventative law would be at odds with a pro-law enforcement viewpoint.

While interning in various offices dealing with criminal law, it is not uncommon to accompany attorneys to court. While observing, it is hard not to notice an alarming trend when criminal defendants are accepting a plea. The defendants are subjected to many questions that help the judge determine whether or not the defendant is fit to take a plea, understands the consequences, etc. One of the questions a judge asks to assess a defendant’s capacity is “what is the highest level of education you have completed?” Quite often, the responses fall short of “twelfth.” Therein lies my interest in the Truancy Court Program and the concepts of therapeutic jurisprudence and preventative law.

Just yesterday I attended the Truancy Court Program orientation at the school I will be assigned to for the next 10 weeks. While the children ranged in age from lower elementary students to middle school students, all brought their own personality and it was clear within minutes. These children, who are often identified as at risk of becoming truant, show that they are often intelligent and/or talented in a variety of ways. The problems behind their school attendance are not necessarily a competency issue, lack of interest, or willingness to break attendance laws. Some truancy issues are addressed by simply giving the child an alarm clock, setting goals for them, etc.

The issues in society and their underlying causes that are most vexing should not be ignored. Especially at such an early age when data supports the proposition that high school dropouts are more likely to engage in illegal behavior. It seems rather inappropriate, and counterproductive, to punish a child who may want to be in school but can’t the same way as a child who flagrantly breaks the rules. All too often, problems such as these are compounded and/or reinforced by systemic flaws. Therapeutic jurisprudence, rightly, recognizes that applying a one size fits all approach may ultimately backfire not only on the rehabilitation of the individual, but on society as well. In fact, one study found that just one high school dropout costs the public more than $200,000 in social programs and criminal justice expenses over the course of the dropout’s lifetime.1

For a more local example, it cost Maryland taxpayers an average of $38,654 to house an inmate in the Department of Corrections just this past year. This figure, which is 26% higher than the national average, does not even include social programs, court costs, or other expenses. It is not unreasonable to think how things could have been different for school children left behind in the years before the concept of therapeutic jurisprudence, preventative law, and the Truancy Court Program. Maybe more children would have succeeded in school if there had been someone to reach out to them and give the child an item as simple as an alarm clock.

Personally, I look forward to the weeks ahead in the CFCC Student Fellows Program. I would expect that some of my fellow bloggers may share some of their experiences as well. After learning about therapeutic jurisprudence and preventative law, it will be a fantastic opportunity to see the concepts take hold in meaningful ‘real world’ applications.

1.Colorado Foundation for Families and Children, “Youth Out of School: Linking Absence to Delinquency,” September 2002.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *