A court-appointed psychiatrist made a preliminary recommendation Tuesday that Malcolm Shabazz, the 12-year-old boy who pleaded guilty last week to setting the fire that killed his grandmother, be sentenced to a “secure facility” for a term of two to three years.
“He is still struggling with impulsiveness that could cause violence to himself and others,” said Dr. Don R. Heacock, who has conducted three formal examinations and had many more extemporaneous conversations with Malcolm.
The youngster has been detained since setting the fire on June 1 that resulted in the death, three weeks later, of Dr. Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X.
Heacock, a professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College, was testifying on the first day of Malcolm’s sentencing hearing.
In addition to his own examination, Heacock had interviewed the boy’s mother, Quibilah Shabazz, and reviewed police reports and reports from Malcolm’s previous psychiatric confinements.
Heacock said that Malcolm needs a wide range of psychological help, including individual, group and family therapy, as well as medication. But he characterized him as a “good candidate for treatment,” a “bright and talented” boy who “shows signs of wanting therapy and has benefited from it in the past.”
Barbara Kukowski, the deputy county attorney who is prosecuting the case in Family Court, asked Heacock his definition of a secure placement. According to the state’s Division for Youth, a secure placement is one with 16-foot double fences, razor wire, motion detectors and nighttime lockups.
But the psychiatrist’s definition had less to do with hardware than with mobility.
He said Malcolm needed to be sent someplace where he would not be allowed home visits or unsupervised time.
Asked how long a confinement he would recommend, Heacock said his judgment was preliminary, because the court had yet to review a final report from the Probation Department or an expert in juvenile firesetters.
But given what he already knew, Heacock said, it would take two to three years to address the extent of Malcolm’s psychological problems.
The additional reports will be discussed when the dispositional, or sentencing, hearing resumes July 29.
Malcolm’s attorneys, Percy Sutton, and David N. Dinkins, objected mildly to the length of confinement the doctor was suggesting, but saved their energy to press for the placement of their choice: Berkshire Farm Center, a century-old, privately run home for wayward boys in Columbia County.
Berkshire is run by Rose W. Washington, who was director of the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice when Dinkins was mayor, and who is widely credited with improving conditions at the notorious Spofford Detention Center in the Bronx.
“Rose is not the female equivalent of a pantywaist,” Dinkins told Heacock. “But she believes in the worth of people, and that’s what this boy needs.”
Heacock said he was not familiar with Berkshire Farm and did not know if it was appropriate for Malcolm.
It is not fenced or locked, but the 250 children there are under 24-hour supervision and go home only with caseworkers’ permission.
“Could you reserve judgment as opposed to saying no?” Dinkins asked.
“I’d be willing to review it,” the doctor replied.
Dinkins pushed harder. “Mr. Sutton suggests a visit might be useful,” he said.
“For myself?” the psychiatrist asked. “I have no objection to that.”
Sutton jovially offered to be his chauffeur.