What is it like to be arrested as a juvenile?
April 24, 2012 3:16 AM   Subscribe

What's it like to be arrested as a juvenile?

Hi. I'm working on a (fiction) story about a teenager who is being arrested for a serious crime (say, violent assault).

But I have no idea what it would be like to be arrested at all -- esp. as a juvenile, and would love some detail from people in this situation or who work in law enforcement about what the experience might be like.

E.g., did you go in the back door of the police station? When were you allowed to call your parents? How soon were you processed (and what was that like?) and taken to a room for questioning? How soon might they put you in a lineup? If this has happened to you, what were the arresting officers/police staff like?

I'm primarily interested in the US experience, but would welcome thoughts from any country.

posted by caoimhe to Law & Government (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I was arrested when I was 15. I'm British, and it was for shop-lifting, but nontheless. Any excuse to wax off about it.

My friends were the shoplifters. I was just along for the ride. The group side of things really influenced how the arrest went. My friend who got caught was bundled into the back of a police van, the separate locked compartment. Me and friends stood by, watching the whole thing unfold. We had stolen goods in our pockets. It wasn't long before the police came over to us, and eventually we were arrested and put into the main part of the van. There was a tiny barred window separating the two sections, through which we could see my rather sheepish friend hunched over on a tiny bench.

The police sat in the front of the van and turned to speak to us (2 15 year olds, one 12 year old). They were pretty calm and humoured by the whole thing, a female and a male officer. They obviously had to do something outside the van before we drove off, so we were left alone for a few minutes. We nervously chatted about how stupid we'd been.

As the police got back into the car, the male officer made a joke about how fun it was going to be to listen to the concealed tape recording of our conversation that they had left running. This was obviously nonsense, I even knew that then. And besides. We had nothing incriminating to say.

We were taken into the front of the police station and told to empty our pockets and shoes. In the van I had slipped a packet of rizlas into my shoe. The corner was torn. The police berated me for this, making mention of my school and headmaster (they knew him by name).

They lined me and my two friends against the wall, and the female officer said something like:

"We are going to bring your friend through now. If he threatens you, don't listen. Everything is going to be ok. He's just scared, and you should consider whether if he was your friend at all, he would say things like that."

They brought our friend in, who'd been stashed in the back of the van. He was cuffed (unlike us). The first thing he said was (looking at me):

"What the **** is he doing here? He didn't do anything!"

This statement definitely made me think about "whether if he was my friend he'd say things like that". I've never felt so proud.

We were then bundled in separate cells and made to wait. One of my friends was being an idiot and wouldn't tell the police where his parents were (at his grandparents). So, instead of all the parents arriving pretty quickly, we had to wait. I reckon I was in that cell for about 6 hours. For about 3 of that I desperately needed the toilet. I asked to go once, and the man on duty opened to tiny slot and said he'd be back soon to let me go. He didn't come back for hours. I almost peed my pants.

My parents arrived. I was mortified. They were mortified. My father sat with me during interview, and we ran through the activities of the day.

They all received warnings, it being their first offences. I was dismissed without any charge and told to be careful who my friends were. I learnt later that each of my friends had begged during their interviews to let me go, because I hadn't done anything wrong. They were good friends.

Strange days indeed.

My parents warned me to not be such an idiot next time, and that was that. It was the very start of the summer holidays and each of my friends were grounded for the following few weeks. It was a boring summer.
posted by 0bvious at 4:37 AM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

How old is this teenager? The experience can vary between a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old, at least here. Also, the rural and urban experiences are quite different.
posted by SMPA at 5:29 AM on April 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is this teenager in a wealthy or impoverished area? Being arrested at school or at the mall or at home or where? What gender and ethnicity (and size) is your character? All of these things matter. A slight, middle class, preppy white female is going to be treated very differently than a muscular black male from an impoverished area.

The cops' experience matters too -- are they familiar with the cultural norms of the community they're policing? (Otherwise they may find your character threatening when he isn't being threatening.) Do these cops have experience with juveniles, or does the department have an officer (or several) with special training for handling juveniles?

Generally the parents must be notified IMMEDIATELY when a juvenile is arrested. (At least in my state.) With the little-little kids, generally contact with the parents is attempted, and definitely preferred, before transporting the child in the police car. There have been local lawsuits when parents haven't been contacted before transport. I'm not sure at what age that stops, but with teenagers committing violent crimes they do call the parents immediately but don't usually wait for them to arrive before transporting the teenager. (With little-little kids, the police also notify DCFS right away; I'm not sure at what age that stops.) Any time a normal arrested person would have a right to an attorney, a juvenile has a right to both an attorney AND his parents.

Juvenile populations have to be separated from adult populations both in local jail and in a more permanent placement. They also generally have to see a judge somewhat faster for deciding on bail and things like that.

You'd really have to give more information about the child and you'll have to look up the procedures in the court jurisdiction in which you reside; they can vary a lot by state, as can the cutoff for treating juveniles as adults. You can also call your local police department's community liaison or press office (or that of your target novel location) and say, "Hey, I'm doing some research for a novel, and I wondered if you had some information available about juvenile arrest procedures?" They may have pamphlets or hand-outs already that they use with community groups or school groups. (Of course this will be an ideal-situation, perfect-policing guide, but you know that.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:27 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was arrested when I was 17, in Fayetteville NC, for shoplifting. Charges were dropped later, because they were ridiculous. The place I was arrested was an accessory store in the mall. My experience was terrible.

I was arrested with a friend, but she was permitted to go home because she had a photo ID and I did not. My arresting officer was a very nice guy, no complaints there. He didn't seem enthused about arresting me, but the store owner insisted she had seen me stealing. (She actually went down to the police station that night and told the magistrate the same thing.) He drove me to the police station and turned me over to people there. I got one of those "You realize you are in a lot of trouble, YOUNG LADY?" speeches from the magistrate.

They police proceded to handcuff me to a wall and leave me there for some time. They also put me in foot shackles. My fingerprints were not taken, but I was photographed. I was then taken to a holding cell across from was presumably the drunk tank. The drunks said, "Aww let the lady go! She don't belong in this place!" I rate the drunks an A+ for being kind and making me laugh.

I was allowed to make a phone call, and I called home. My little brother answered the phone, and told me he would track Mom down at the Books-a-Million she had gone to with her friend and his daughter. No cell phones, so she was paged to the courtesy phone.

By this time, I was weeping hysterically. I was in leg shackles, for fuck's sake! At every turn, they were trying to "teach me a lesson", "scare me straight", and I found it degrading and humiliating.

Because this is Fayetteville, the guy overseeing the holding cells was a young MP. My cell door was open for whatever reason, and the MP brought me paper towels to wipe my nose and eyes. He was very sweet. He told me to not worry, that things would be okay and this would blow over.

Note: I was a waif-life teenage white girl with very long hair, and I was wearing an R.E.M. babydoll t-shirt and a black corduroy miniskirt. Because of this, I was continually receiving gross comments from the officers, like, "The girls in the juvenile cells are going to just loooove you!" To prove that point, they took me down to those cells and showed me the kids who were locked up. More attempts to scare me straight, I guess. It was awful. Most of the girls ignored me, but a few yelled, "HEY PUT HER IN HERE! SHE'S PRETTY, I'LL TAKE CARE OF HER!"

My mother and her friends had arrived at this point to get me. None of them were mad. They had assumed I'd been picked up for alcohol or drugs (which is hilarious because I never did drugs and almost never drank). They were incredibly pissed to find out I had been brought downtown over allegedly stealing a $3 hair clip.

I was taken into some office-like area so the cop attending me could fill out some kind of paperwork. A middle-aged, moustachioed cop spun around in his chair and said, "Hope you like licking pussy. Because that's what you're going to be doing all night long if your parents don't come get you." This is a direct quote. I will never forget it. I gave him a WITHERING stare, but I was stupid and never told my mother about this. That was really when I got sick of the scaring-straight bullshit.

I was led out to my mother and her friends in handcuffs and leg shackles. The cop leading me was an huge bitch about what a worthless kid I was, but the cop my mother spoke to said that he disagreed that I should have been arrested at all.

My mom took me home. I had a court date. The D.A. rolled her eyes at the charges and sent me home. My mom got me a Hello Kitty lunchbox and took me out for sandwiches, to help me cheer up.

I still regret never telling an adult what that cop said to me.

MeMail me if you want any other sordid details. I'll try to come up with some.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:22 AM on April 24, 2012 [4 favorites]

Great follow-up questions. I like the idea of actually calling up the police station -- I hadn't thought of that! As for more details on the protagonist, I'd prefer to leave it open just to get the widest variety of views, but I definitely see how age/gender/race/neighborhood could make a difference.
posted by caoimhe at 8:29 AM on April 24, 2012

I was arrested when I was 13 as an adult for shoplifting. I was still in grade school (8th grade). It was pretty humiliating. The arresting officer kept telling me how my life was ruined- I'd never get a job and would not be able to get into college. I was taken to the police station to be booked; there was a group of cops (one of them lived in my neighborhood). They also kept up with the jeering, telling me how I had ruined my life. My mother came and bailed me out; she wasn't pleased either. My dad kicked me around for awhile when he found out. I made the arrest list in the newspaper. When I went to school the nuns gave me lectures in front of the class. Most of my friends' parents wouldn't let me hang out with them. I became depressed ; this was the first time I had thoughts about suicide; luckily it happened about a week before school let out for the summer. I still have a hard time as an adult coping with the feeling of being in trouble.
posted by coldhotel at 3:03 PM on April 24, 2012

« Older See, Vera? Dress yourself up you get taken...   |   What's the cheapest way to ship a book from the US... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.