Mayor Parker says juvenile clients need strong advocates to get back on track

The Center for Children, Law & Policy’s conference addresses juvenile rights, education and juvenile defense standards

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Center for Children, Law & Policy Directer Professor Ellen Marrus, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, and University of Houston Law Canter Interim Dean Richard Alderman

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May 17, 2013 – Houston Mayor Annise Parker told more than 100 juvenile justice advocates that they need to take an individual approach to helping each child they come in contact with during day two of the 12th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference. The professional development training is hosted by the Center for Children, Law & Policy.

“As advocates your job is to find solutions to your clients’ problems, and each solution is specific to each client,” Parker said. “Finding unique answers for clients is not cheap and it is not easy, but it is more effective than doing nothing. If we don’t do this, we as a society pay the price.”

Parker spoke from a personal and public policy perspective during her presentation “Today’s Delinquent/ Tomorrow’s Challenge.” She noted that creating productive activities for youth could help keep them out of the juvenile justice system.

Earlier in the day, Attorney Francis “Frankie” Guzman shared his story of how he went from prison to juvenile justice attorney. His presentation “From Behind Bars to the State Bar: A Discarded Youth’s Story,” earned a standing ovation.

When Guzman was three years old, his parents divorced and his father abandoned the family. Shortly after, his older brother shot and killed a man. He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 17 years to life.

“Some of my earliest memories are of going to my brothers hearing and seeing him in shackles,” Guzman said. “That lifestyle was all I knew. It became my identity.”

Guzman said that tragedy, drugs, and gangs defined his childhood. When he was 15, he and a friend stole a vehicle and robbed a liquor store at gunpoint. He was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 15 years in the California Youth Authority.

After serving three years of his sentence, Guzman was released on good behavior. However, he was sent him back to the Youth Authority for another year for violating his parole. He was released and enrolled at Oxnard College.

“When I walked on campus, I saw something I had never seen before: A Latino man in a suit,” he said.  “It was the dean. I told myself that I would wear a suit one day, too.”

Guzman went on to earn a B.A. in English from the University of California, Berkeley and a J.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles Law School. He won a coveted Soros Justice Fellowship, a two-year grant that will fund his work at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland to study alternatives to placing youths who are first-time offenders of serious crimes in adult prisons.

“We need to stop talking and start doing,” Guzman said. “As people cared for me, I began to care for myself. As people believed in me, I began to believe in myself. We are human beings first, and we need to help our community.”

The conference concluded with a judicial ethics panel moderated by Professor Ellen Marrus with Hon. Michael Schneider and Hon. Pat Garza.

The Center for Children, Law & Policy is directed by Professor Ellen Marrus. Irene Merker Rosenberg Child Advocacy Scholars are Shiloh Carter, Alex Hunt, Cara Henley Johnson, Allison Arterberry, Ashley Pierce, and Lisa Steffek.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker Juvenile justice attorney Francis Guzman Hon. Pat Garza, Hon. Michael Schneider and Professor Ellen Marrus

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