Yakima County Juvenile Court Commissioner Robert Inouye dons his robe as prepares to preside over another day of juvenile court.
GORDON KING/Yakima Herald-RepublicYakima County Juvenile Court Commissioner Robert Inouye works in his chambers before presiding over court one day in January.Inouye
exhausts all alternatives before sentencing chronic runaways to serve time in the county's juvenile detention center.
...Maria Ochoa was a 15-year-old chronic runaway in foster care when Robert Inouye, Yakima County's juvenile court commissioner, took the unusual step of sentencing her to jail for a total of three months.
30 days in the juvenile-only detention center on Jerome Avenue, where runaways are in cells adjacent to juveniles with serious criminal records.
Back before Inouye
found herself with a 60-day sentence and the threat that he
might lock her
up until she
They argued that Inouye
authority and failed to pursue less restrictive alternatives, such as ordering social workers to provide more mental health services.
The public defenders lost at the state Court of Appeals.They appealed to the state Supreme Court in Olympia, where they were joined by a host of state and national children's advocacy groups.
In a December decision that drew national attention, a majority of the justices ruled that Inouye
had improperly incarcerated troubled youth before exhausting less severe alternatives.
...Briefs filed in the case suggest that the 56-year-old Inouye is a heartless judge who doesn't understand the social pathology of troubled kids in foster care.
said the recent Supreme Court ruling reflects an "ivory tower" mentality toward the problem of chronic foster-care runaways."My reaction was that they didn't have enough information on the ground about real situations and what kind of interventions sometimes are needed to help kids turn around," he
, whose wife is a psychotherapist, said he
is a big believer in mental health services."But in extreme cases, I can't get those services going because (the children) are making their decision to (run away)," he
The deeper issue, Inouye
said, is the state Legislature's failure to fund secure inpatient treatment facilities for children with drug and mental health issues.The Legislature authorized judges to lock up kids for inpatient treatment but never appropriated money to pay for the facilities, Inouye
Sonia Rodriguez, the public defender who represented Ochoa and the other girls jailed by Inouye
, agrees that the state hasn't provided adequate resources to help.
...But Nichols disagrees that the state -- or Commissioner Inouye -- is overusing it, arguing that Inouye has made sure detention is employed only as a last resort.
"I think (Inouye) has a great deal of patience," Nichols said.
doesn't like that idea.Criminal contempt, he
said, is a long process that wouldn't help a minor in a crisis.Plus, a conviction would stigmatize the child."I don't like the idea of criminalizing kids," Inouye