According to Anthony Capizzi, his desire to become a judge originated from the enjoyment he experienced while working with families as a juvenile and family law attorney. He wanted to make a greater impact on the youth he represented during his years in private practice.
“I felt there were injustices I wanted to correct,” Capizzi said. “[Being a judge allows me to] make a difference in a much broader way.”
Now, after more than 12 years behind the bench in Ohio’s Montgomery County Juvenile Court, his efforts to make a difference in families and youth in the state’s juvenile delinquency system have been recognized.
Last month, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) elected Capizzi as its 2017-2018 president.
During his time as a judge, Capizzi has worked to reform juvenile courts by implementing initiatives that encourage alternatives to the use of detention, focusing on the importance of community engagement and advocating for the humane treatment of youth in detention.
The NCJFCJ is an organization that represents judges who work in delinquency and dependency courts and seeks to improve the effectiveness of the nation’s juvenile courts by providing resources and training to stakeholders in the justice system.
As president-elect for the NCJFCJ, his three main focuses are to enhance the training of judges, to experiment with types of technology that can aid in training judges and helping families, and to strengthen trust between communities and judges across the country.
Capizzi began his career as a judge in 2005 for Montgomery County’s juvenile court. From the start, he focused on creating programs offering alternatives to detention. Capizzi’s programs provide a way for youth to obtain counseling and develop life-skills while addressing their individual needs.
Capizzi is most proud of his role in advocating against the indiscriminate use of shackling on youth in Ohio’s juvenile courts.
Shackling can be defined as handcuffs, waist chains, ankle restraints, zip ties or other restraints that are designed to impede movement or control behavior, according to the NCJFCJ.
Capizzi said that the use of these restraints causes more than just physical discomfort.
“Cuffs are emotionally traumatic,” he said.
For the last five years, Capizzi, along with others, has led efforts to change shackling laws. These efforts proved successful when Ohio adopted the Local Child Restraint Rule in 2016, which restricts automatic shackling of juveniles unless under necessary conditions.
Among Capizzi’s other successes in the NCJFCJ is implementing the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) in five of Ohio’s most populous counties. JDAI offers several strategies to help jurisdiction avoid the use of detention when possible.
The number of youth held in detention in Ohio has dropped by 74 percent in recent years, from roughly 160 kids in detention on any given day in 2010 to approximately 30 kids in detention in 2017.
Another of Capizzi’s initiatives, the Evening Reporting Center (ERC), seeks to reduce youth recidivism by providing life-skill coaching and counseling during hours in which youth are most likely to commit crimes. The initiative relies on a strong partnership with Dayton’s Mt. Enon Baptist Church, which assists with ERC programming by providing facilities and food for youth.
Capizzi believes courts need to do a better job of reaching out to communities through faith-based organizations.
“You can’t separate church and state in dealing with children, [and] the religious community can help,” Capizzi said.
Capizzi said he now meets regularly with different religious and ethnic communities and encourages churches to visit juvenile detention centers.
Capizzi believes one of the most important things judges can do is to engage with the communities they serve beyond just the courtroom.
“Juvenile [court] judges need to get off the bench and into the communities,” Capizzi said. “Judges need to educate the community in many ways and [they] can’t do it in the courtroom.”