Their vision of a nurturing child-justice system provides the title of William Ayers' latest book, "A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court." But as Ayers ironically demonstrates, the hope that the courts would treat their youthful charges "as a kind and just parent" might has long since been abandoned and replaced by a huge, stagnant bureaucracy and a system in which increasing numbers are incarcerated and warehoused, and in which teenage life is wasted and aspirations are expendable.
In the first two years of its existence, Cook County's Juvenile Court reduced the number of children in the County Jail from 1,705 to 60. Today, however, the system has become a repository for some 75,000 cases that include not only delinquents but children who are neglected and abused. And, as Ayers points out, "Compared to the population as a whole, poor kids (95), African-American (80) and Latino (15) kids, and boys (9O) are grossly over-represented" in a system that costs more to incarcerate each inmate than it costs for room, board and tuition at the most elite prep schools in the U.S.
Ayers--a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago as well as a teacher and observer in the Juvenile Court system--broke through these sad statistics by immersing himself in the daily life of the court's Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (commonly known as the Audy Home), where he encountered some of these teenagers and their anger and disillusionment, as well as their hopes and dreams. He writes about them and about committed, unrelenting teachers at the Audy Home's Nancy B. Jefferson School who, for many of the young men, were the only steady beacon in their lives. It is in these individuals that Ayers sees the slightest glimmer of what could be the surrogate "kind and just parent."