Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Locked Up At Age 11: One Truant's Cycle In And Out Of Juvenile Detention

The first time a judge sent Marquise-Unique Travon Flynn to juvenile detention he was in fifth grade. He had one goal: not to cry in front of the other kids in the courtroom.

“So when I sat there I didn’t cry,” Marquise recalled.

But his mother Gail Morehouse did.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “He hadn’t broken any laws. I just didn’t get it.”

Marquise was locked up not for a juvenile offense, but because he was a truant who wasn’t following a judge’s orders.

Washington state leads the nation in locking up youth for skipping school and other non-criminal behavior. And one county leads all the rest -- Grays Harbor on Washington’s coast.

Chronic migraines … and chronic absences

On a recent breezy afternoon, Marquise returned to Robert Gray Elementary School in Aberdeen.

“This is where it all started,” he said.

The school was locked, but Marquise pointed through the front window.

“That’s the office right there and there’s a little cubby,” he said. “I used to sit in that cubby all the time, just getting in trouble.”

Marquise said he would get kicked out of class for doing things like beatboxing.

“I used to do that a lot, all the time,” he said.

But there was something else going on too. Marquise was missing a lot of school. The Aberdeen School District said Marquise was absent 69 days in third grade and 54 days in fourth grade.

He blamed chronic migraines. “That’s like staying at home puking,” he said.

“A lot had to do with the headaches,” his mother said. “And sometimes we couldn’t get a doctor’s note.”

At the end of his fourth-grade year, the school district filed a truancy petition against Marquise in juvenile court.

Gail said, “I got the notice in the mail.”

Seven days in lock-up

Suddenly, Marquise’s attendance and his behavior in school were a matter for the courts. As Marquise began fifth grade, he and his mother had to appear regularly before a judge. At first things went OK, but then Marquise hit a patch of trouble. He was accused of three instances of disruptive and disrespectful behavior at school. He also failed to complete a court-ordered good manners assignment.

That’s when Marquise did his first stint in juvenile detention. He spent seven days locked up. He was 11 years old.

The judge who put him there: David Edwards of Grays Harbor County Superior Court.

“I think Marquise, when he was 11 years old, was extremely defiant and his mother was making excuses for him all the time,” Edwards said.

Marquise’s mom said her son could be difficult, but being locked up for bad behavior?

“The punishment was something that grownups would never get,” she said.

Judge Edwards though believed detention can help a kid like Marquise learn that they are responsible for their own behavior.

“Sometimes that lesson can only be learned through an unpleasant consequence and kids consider our detention facility an unpleasant consequence,” he said.

Case closed?

After his release, Marquise did stay out of trouble. But soon he was missing school again. The school district would file two more truancy petitions in court.

Over a two-and-a-half year period, Marquise would be sent to juvenile detention seven more times: for skipping school, disrespectful behavior and, later, for testing positive for marijuana.

Between fifth grade and ninth grades he would spend a total of 42 days locked up. His mom calls it a “travesty of justice.” She believes all those days locked way institutionalized her son.

“The attitude that ‘I’m here, nothing I can do about it, all I can do is my time, I’ll be glad to get out, but no big deal,’” she said.

“Current circumstances don’t support that opinion,” Judge Edwards countered.

He recently closed Marquise’s third truancy case.

“I think that what happened in truancy court was an essential factor in his ultimately becoming successful,” Judge Edwards said.

Today, Marquise is in tenth grade. He’s attending an alternative high school and has dreams of playing college football.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."