By Janine Robben
On June 10, 1905, 12-year-old Oliver became the first — ever — delinquent to appear before the Multnomah County Juvenile Court.
His crime? Being "a truant and a bad boy."
The judge was Arthur Frazer, whose peers had chosen him for the job because he was the youngest of their group.
Frazer placed Oliver — whose parents, if he had parents, are not mentioned in the record — on probation.
Five days later, Oliver had already lost the job his probation officer had found for him at Meier & Frank: On June 17, just one week after his first court appearance, he was sentenced to a detention center.
One hundred years later, Oliver’s case — and the oversize, linen-bound ledger that contains it — are objects of curiosity at the Multnomah County Juvenile Justice Complex, where the 100th anniversary of the first juvenile court in Oregon was celebrated earlier this month.
"Some of the cases are kind of quaint," says Multnomah County Judge Edward Jones, who has been researching the history of the juvenile court. "A kid riding a bike without a bell. What’s remarkable is that none of them would be characterized as particularly serious crimes, and only a few of them are what we would call ‘dependencies.’ "
The history of the Multnomah County Juvenile Court is an amazing story, filled with whores and madames, a world fair and the country’s first female detective.
It began more than 100 years ago, with the establishment of what is widely regarded as the country’s first juvenile court, in Chicago, in 1899.
Although modern scholars disagree about Chicago’s primacy in the development of juvenile courts nationwide, the links between it and Multnomah County are indisputable: Millie Reid Trumbull, one of Oregon’s first juvenile court advocates, came to Portland from Chicago, where she had worked for Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House and a critic of the "deplorable" conditions in Illinois’ children’s institutions.1
It was not institutions but something else entirely that helped to trigger public discussion of the creation of a juvenile court in Oregon: the Lewis and Clark Exposition, which was scheduled to open June 1, 1905 in Portland.
"Many young girls had vanished during three previous such fairs in the east," says Lori Shea Kuechler, executive director of the Portland Police Museum. "So Lola Baldwin [who later became the country’s first female police detective], with the assistance of the Travelers’ Aid Society and the YWCA, was hired for $75 month to lead volunteers to fight evil. She had a group meet every incoming train and boat and tried to steer young visitors in the right direction, and she successfully asked Portland madames to refer girls who ‘didn’t belong to their profession’ for help."
Concurrent with these preparations for the fair, Baldwin and Trumbull became the only female members of a committee to get a state law passed authorizing creation of a juvenile court in Multnomah County.
A graduate student named Allan East, who interviewed many of the principals, including Trumbull, wrote in an unpublished master’s thesis in 1939: "…the juvenile court was brought to Oregon because of a comprehension of the need for increased social control of those children affiliated with the malfunctioning families and neighbors in the state, particularly in Multnomah County… The social behavior of these children was held to evidence the disorganization of many Oregon families, through social change or decline in the rules of behavior." 2
The sought-after act was passed in 1905.
Frazer, who was quickly appointed judge, named Trumbull head of probation and Baldwin the court’s unpaid probation officer for transient girls.
Oregon’s first juvenile court was underway.
THE FIRST FEMALE DETECTIVE
While Frazer’s court had jurisdiction over both juvenile delinquents and "dependent" children — defined as "liable to become socially unadjusted because of an unfit environment or participation, willing or otherwise, in harmful activities"3 — the 1905 docket was, Jones observes, dominated by "delinquents."
Examples of delinquent behavior included "larceny of pigeons," "larceny of some wheat," "larceny of a dog," and "assaulting a Chinaman."
Having a mother who was a "professional beggar" apparently made a child a "dependent."
Other acts, such as "jumping on and off trains," "riding a bike without a bell," "(being) incorrigible and inclined to be a tomboy," and being a girl and "(going) swimming in a nude condition with the boys" are harder to classify: Did they constitute delinquency, or dependency?
In 1908, Baldwin passed the civil service test, becoming — at age 48 — the country’s first female detective, and serving for many years as superintendent of the Portland Police Department’s Women’s Protective Division.
Despite these titles, Baldwin continued to see herself more as the woman who kept young female visitors to Portland from falling into lives of prostitution instead of as a police officer.
"She didn’t like being called a police woman," says Portland police historian Kuechler. "If anyone called her that, she corrected them in a letter."
According to Kuechler, Baldwin and her female cohorts were "not feminists.
"They believed that women had more wisdom with regard to certain things — drinking, prostitution and vice — and needed to impose themselves on the system to straighten things out," she explains. "Lola Baldwin saw herself more as a social worker, very much a temperance-league kind of gal."
How Baldwin saw Portland society is clearly reflected in her 17th annual report on the Women’s Protective Division, written in February 1922:
…moral conditions are below the normal since the War," she wrote, primly. "…The exploitation of girl life during the War was pitiable and we now have on hand the results of too much freedom and a general lowering of standards in the American home. Old fashioned parental authority with loving obedience and respect for parents is sadly declining. The modern girl with immodest and expensive gown, grotesque hair-dress, rouge and lip-sticks is a poor substitute for the modest, beautiful young American girl of yesterday…
It is also a fact that cigarette smoking among women and girls is increasing to an alarming extent. …The Women’s Protective Division is in position to know facts. We do not make statements without being able to substantiate them.
…It is a conceded fact that among all forms of recreation, the dance is the most difficult to supervise and is the most prolific cause of juvenile delinquency.
But, for all her moralizing, Baldwin also had an eye on the bigger picture.
"If we were asked the oft-repeated question, ‘Why do girls go wrong?,’ our answer would be, ‘Because help is not given them in time,’" she wrote in the report. "For the first time in the history of the department, we are convinced that this year many girls are being driven to prostitution by unemployment and actual want."
Baldwin also walked her talk: Her granddaughter told Kuechler that, as a child, Baldwin only allowed her to play in her backyard, a rule the granddaughter later realized was the result of death threats Baldwin had received from bordello owners and others who were unhappy with her work.
ONE FAMILY, ONE JUDGE
Not surprisingly, the Multnomah County Juvenile Court of today is very different from the one that Baldwin and others advocated for 100 years ago.
Nine judges — not one, as in Frazer’s day — now rotate through juvenile court every month in teams of two.
Along with the court’s four permanent referees, the judges hear cases in a 10-year-old Juvenile Justice Complex — filled with colorful, multi-cultural artwork — that was built to replace the county’s 1950-ish juvenile home.
On Jan. 4, 1994, the county instituted a "one-family, one-judge system," in which the same juvenile court judge handles almost every matter involving any member of the same family.4
"It’s a growing trend (nationwide)," says Multnomah County Circuit Judge Paula Kurshner, who has been a family court judge for over 10 years. "Divorces, restraining orders, delinquencies, dependencies. We wouldn’t do a parent’s criminal trial, but we would supervise his probation."
How this system works and — more importantly, how well it works — was evident on a recent rainy Portland afternoon, when Kurshner’s colleague, Multnomah Circuit Court Judge Nan Waller, presided over a dependency hearing involving a 12-year-old boy and his pre-school age sister.
Unlike the case of that other 12-year-old boy, Oliver, 100 years ago, this time the children weren’t the sole focus of the judge’s attention.
In fact, they weren’t even present.
Instead, attorneys — who now are appointed to represent children in dependency proceedings — protected the siblings’ interests while Waller addressed their mother.
She is on probation for a drug offense: Their father, who is not — in modern parlance, "clean and sober" — was absent, having been placed back in custody for a 13-month stretch.
"I’ve lost track of the number of times he’s relapsed," Waller says sadly.
"Me, too," says the mother, who is filing for legal separation, a domestic matter that also will be assigned to Waller.
Waller has worked with this family for three years. As evidenced by the father’s incarceration, things still are not going perfectly: The mother’s probation officer, who is present, describes the 12-year-old as "probably a troubled young man."
But his mother has enrolled him in counseling, which she plans to attend with him, and has arranged for him to transfer to a school that she believes will enhance his self-esteem. His younger sister is learning to read. "Her latest drawing is just of a really happy kid," her attorney says to Waller. "I think it reflects her state of mind."
Waller tells the mother that she plans to dismiss the family’s dependency case as soon as the parents’ separation is final.
"This has been a long time in coming," Waller tells the mother, a broad smile on her face. "You’ve made remarkable progress; you’ve become an excellent advocate for your children. That’s what I always hope for."
CHILDREN’S RIGHTS ADVANCES
But self-imposed changes like the one-family, one-court system are not the only ones that the Multnomah County Juvenile Court has experienced in the last 100 years. It, like Oregon’s other juvenile courts, has also been hugely affected by changes that have been made at the state, and even the national, level.
According to juvenile court historian Marvin Ventrell, "The delinquency and dependency components of the juvenile court, historically connected by a ‘child saving’ philosophy, began to separate into distinct functions in the 1960s."5
That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court, in the landmark Gault decision,6 ruled that virtually all of the constitutional protections required for adult criminal defendants also apply to juvenile delinquents.
Almost 40 years later, writes Ventrell, "The decision continues to be hailed by some as a great advancement in children’s rights and by others as the criminalization of the juvenile court and the beginning of the end of the court’s authority to treat children like children rather than adults. The difference of the opinion goes to the heart of the debate over the purpose and future of the delinquency court."
Then, in 1995, two state laws — Ballot Measure 11 and Senate Bill 1 — made more big changes in how Oregon’s juvenile system operates.
Many of the system’s players were not happy with Measure 11, which took away the juvenile court’s discretion to decide whether 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds, alleged to have committed serious crimes against persons, should be remanded for trial in adult court instead of remaining in juvenile court.
"I think it’s terrible," says Julie McFarlane, supervising attorney of the Juvenile Rights Project in Portland, which represents both delinquent and dependent juveniles. "It’s totally inappropriate to say that all 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds should be treated as adults. Research on brain development shows their brains haven’t developed to the stage where they should be held as responsible as adults. I think it was a mistake, and the voters should review it."
Judge Kurshner agrees. "They’re not just little adults," she says of teenagers. "When you impose our criminal justice system, which assumes mens rea, on what kids intend — or don’t — the results are sometimes nonsensical."
Senate Bill 1, which was passed the same year Measure 11 was implemented, established the Oregon Youth Authority as an independent agency.
The bill also set out a new purpose for the juvenile justice system in delinquency cases: "…to protect the public" and to pursue "…the principles of personal responsibility, accountability and reformation within the context of public safety and restitution…"7
"It was really a shift for the juvenile system to look primarily at public safety as an objective in working with kids," says Joanne Fuller, director of Multnomah County’s Department of Community Justice, which was created when the county’s juvenile and adult corrections departments were merged in 1998.
From Fuller’s point of view, the passage of Measure 11 and SB 1, along with the county’s work with the charitable Annie E. Casey Foundation on detention reform (which also began in 1995), caused juvenile justice to "grow up as a system.
"The system had been very individualistic," she says. "Now it’s a system that has standards."
"Yes, we hold kids accountable," continues Fuller, who holds a master’s in social work, "but in a way that tries to support them, and tries to bring whole-family involvement. There’s a commonality of vision among the juvenile defense attorneys, the DAs, the judges and us. I think it shows."
A CHANGE OF FOCUS
While the Supreme Court’s Gault decision did not limit the parens patriae authority of the juvenile court’s dependency arm, that, too, changed in the last half of the 20th century, according to court historian Ventrell, "from a system of coercive predictions for poor dependent children to a system of intervention into the family to protect abused and neglected children."
Some of the changes were driven by Congress, which passed legislation8 designed to limit how long dependent children remain in foster care before they are reunited with their parents or provided with other permanent homes.
According to juvenile defense attorney McFarlane, the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, in particular, "put a lot of pressure on the juvenile system to get kids out of foster care.
"It changed the (system’s) focus from parents to child: How long can a child stay in this impermanent system?" she says, noting that recent studies on the effects of long-term foster care on children have revealed some "abysmal" outcomes.
But judges have found that implementing the law is not always easy.
"It’s good to get children safely back in the care of their parents in a reasonable time or, if that can’t happen, to come up with a permanent plan such as adoption, placement with relatives or a permanent foster home," says Judge Kurshner, whose department handles approximately 1,200 dependency cases a year, each of which has a timeline of roughly one year for resolution. "There were kids who were lingering in foster care for years.
"The irony," Kurshner continues, "is that the law coincides with the drying-up of resources, such as drug treatment, for parents, so that timelines that are reasonable for children are not necessarily reasonable for parents. If parents only have a year, and they can’t get into drug treatment for six months…"
THE NEXT CENTURY
What lies ahead for the Multnomah County Juvenile Court as it embarks on its second 100 years?
The good news is that juvenile delinquency in Multnomah County — and, to a lesser extent, across the country — generally declined between 1998 and 2003, according to the Department of Community Justice’s Fuller.
"Crime has been a big issue, both in political discourse and the media. The story (of what’s really happening) hasn’t been made clear," says Fuller, who says that the decline is now "flattening out," perhaps as a result of the bad economy.
The sexual abuse of children also is declining, according to McFarlane, who speculates that publicity and public education about the problem may have paid off.
Unfortunately, says McFarlane, the drop in juvenile delinquency has been replaced by an increase in juvenile dependency due to child abuse.
"It used to be 50-50," McFarlane says of her office’s caseload. "Now 75 percent of our cases are dependency, which is tied to poverty and the economy really closely. And there’s been a big increase in drug-related abuse and neglect, especially related to meth. It’s a really difficult drug; it makes parents unable to parent."
In addition, says McFarlane, there’s "still really bad minority over-representation — African-American in the Portland area — in both dependency and delinquency. Overwhelmingly they are poor." (According to Fuller, her agency’s involvement with the Annie E. Casey Foundation "has really impacted minority over-representation" in both detention and commitment.)
Nonetheless, 100 years after Arthur Frazer’s older colleagues picked him to preside over the state’s first juvenile court, the court he started is a sought-after assignment.
Judge Kurshner recounts the time her courtroom was filled with people who had helped a mother who was appearing in court after successfully completing drug treatment. "They all stood and applauded," she says.
Adds Judge Waller, "We all do the work we do because, while at times the problems seem tremendous, change does happen."
From McFarlane’s point of view, such successes aren’t happenstance. "There are a lot of good players in the system," she says. "The system works smoothly.
"I guess," she adds, "they’ve had 100 years to get it together."
About the Author
Janine Robben is a frequent contributor to the Bulletin. She has been a member of the Oregon State Bar since 1980.
1. "A Contribution to the History of the American Juvenile Court" by Sanford J. Fox, published in the Juvenile and Family Court Journal, Vol. 49, No. 4, Fall 1998.
2. "The Genesis and Early Development of a Juvenile Court: A Study in Community Responsibility in Multnomah County, Oregon for the Period 1841-1920," maintained in the collection of the Oregon Historical Society.
3. From East’s thesis.
4. The family court was established Jan. 4, 1994, consolidating the circuit court’s domestic relations and juvenile jurisdiction in Multnomah County. Since that time, the family court has been managing cases under the principle of maintaining one judge assigned to one family.
5. From "Evolution of the Dependency Component of the Juvenile Court," published in the Juvenile and Family Court Journal, Vol. 49, No. 4, Fall 1998.
6. In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967).
7. Codified at ORS 419C.001.
8. The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act, which was passed in 1980, and the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.© 2005 Janine Robben