Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Former Shawnee County Judge Speaks Bluntly for Juvenile Justice Reform

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Former Shawnee County Judge Speaks Bluntly for Juvenile Justice Reform

Article excerpt

Now in her second year of retirement, former Shawnee County Judge Jean Schmidt did Wednesday what sitting judges can't -- she spoke candidly about public policy.

"Zero-tolerance policies are for stupid and lazy people who don't want to think or have to analyze the situation and really make a concerted, thoughtful decision," Schmidt told a crowd at the YWCA in downtown Topeka.

Schmidt retired in 2014 after nearly a dozen years as a judge in Shawnee County District Court, where she handled adult and juvenile criminal cases and children in need of care.

As a judge and, before that, a prosecutor, Schmidt sent plenty of juveniles to jail. Now she is a proponent of juvenile justice reform that will outlaw detention for youngsters in most cases.

On April 11, Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law Senate Bill 367, an overhaul of the state's juvenile justice system that will move money from detention centers to community-based programs.

"I think it's a wonderful bill," Schmidt said. "You might hear criticism from people saying it's soft on crime. It's not soft on crime. It's being smart on crime. Being smart on crime means making people less likely to commit those acts in the future and be higher- functioning people."

The legislation passed the Kansas House by a vote of 118-5 and the Senate unanimously, 40-0. It was opposed by some prosecutors and a handful of state representatives, including Rep. Jim Ward, D- Wichita, who voiced concerns Brownback won't fund necessary community programs.

Schmidt agreed programs must be funded in order to function. She said middle-school students get in trouble between 3 and 6 p.m. and touted a St. Louis, Mo., program for juveniles on probation that provides after-school programs until 10 p.m.

"Think of everything you can expose them to in a six-hour session," she said, referring to extensive tutoring, music and arts classes, fitness and nutrition education. …

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