Best Juvenile Seminar in the State
On a cloudless June morning in 2010, Shaka Senghor walked out of prison after serving 19 years — seven of them in solitary confinement. Just shy of his 19th birthday, he had shot and killed a man in a drug deal gone awry.
“Welcome back to the free world,” one of the officers remarked as he exited. “I’ll see you back in six months.”
An audible groan was heard throughout the audience of nearly 400 criminal defense advocates who had attended the 36th Annual Juvenile Delinquency Law Training Seminar on April 21. Organized by the LA County Public Defender’s Office, the event took place at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles in downtown LA.
With breakout sessions covering everything from litigating juvenile confessions to representing LGBTQ youth to effectively representing noncitizen clients, the keynote speaker was Senghor, author of New York Times bestselling memoir, Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison.
Senghor personifies the story of redemption and captures why criminal defense advocates passionately advocate on behalf of young people.
“Who you are at 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 years doesn’t define who you will be when you are mature enough to get through your trauma,” said Senghor, who grew up on Detroit’s eastside during the height of the 1980s crack epidemic. “And your emotional availability to grow and evolve. We have the power to change that.”
Senghor had touched upon the purpose of the seminar — which was to train juvenile defenders and advocates how to better serve youths in trouble with the law through a holistic approach and remove their barriers to a successful reentry into the community.
Since that day in 2010, Senghor’s achievements have been limitless. In addition to being recognized for many achievements by notable organizations like the NCAAP and TED, he was recently named executive director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC).
To top it off, Oprah Winfrey declared her three-and-a-half-hour interview with Senghor one of the best conversations she’s had in her life.
“Even though they said I would be back in prison in six months,” Senghor told the crowd.
In addition to Senghor’s powerful speech, community based organizations such as the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network and the Alliance for Children’s Rights taught attendees what resources are available for their clients.
“The annual seminar is a wonderful opportunity to bring together juvenile defenders and advocates to learn from the best legal minds to further assist the youth of our state,” said LA County Deputy Public Defender Natasha Khamashta, the event’s lead organizer.
Members of the LA County Public Defender also led some of the dozen breakout sessions. Social Work Program Manager Tracie Jones moderated “Social Workers and You: How to Collaborate with a Forensic Social Worker.”
Public Defender Rourke Stacy, trainer for the Juvenile Division, spoke on “Litigating Juvenile Confessions;” and Deputy Public Defender Elizabeth Lashley-Haynes, resource attorney in the Juvenile Division, with Jessica Weinhold, clinical social worker also in the Juvenile Division, led “Compassionate Lawyering.”
“The seminar was fantastic,” said LA County Public Defender Juvenile Division’s Head Deputy Casey Lilienfeld, who gave welcome remarks. “I received comments from an untold number of attendees, both inside and outside our office, confirming it. It was attended by defenders from all over California and reinforced its place as the best seminar of its kind in the state.”
Senghor said seminars such as Saturday’s were a harbinger of the positive trajectory in juvenile justice.
“I believe that the commitment of every man and woman in this room right now is aligned with the reality that we can change this for the better,” he said. “And we will.”
Speaking at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC) Staff Panel moderated by Senghor were Adam Mortera, a life coach and member of the Hope and Redemption team at ARC; Sam Lewis, director of Inside Programs at ARC; and Kent Mendoza, ARC’s policy coordinator. Click here for background on the speakers and a full list of participants, their topics and stories.
The seminar was among many ways the LA Public Defender’s Office is leading the charge to ensure children involved in the juvenile justice system are treated with compassion and respect. The Public Defender recognizes many children are victims of untreated abuse and neglect, and have unaddressed mental health, substance use disorder and special education needs. Public Defender attorneys work with psychiatric social workers, resource attorneys, paralegals and investigators to provide holistic services.
Visit Juvenile Services to learn more.