As chief attorney for the Chicago Juvenile Legal Aid Society, Murphy has devoted the last four years to an attempt to save children from the bureaucratic quagmire of the juvenile justice system -- a system stuck in its own shibboleths. Under the rubric ""best interests of the child,"" youngsters whose only crime may be running away from an intolerable home situation may find themselves ""placed"" in institutions far less humane than the average penitentiary. Cases in point: Larry, Earl, James and John, who were kept in solitary confinement for weeks and given as many as four shots of Thorazine a day for minor infractions; Matilda, who has spent so much of her life in institutions that there is little hope of her ever adjusting to life in the outside world; or Billy and Tommy, who were bound spread-eagled to their beds for 77 consecutive hours as punishment for alleged homosexual activity. This is a more than troubling portrayal of the juvenile justice system as a ""limitless wasteland of insanity."" Although the author and his colleagues developed and implemented a law reform strategy and had their share of courtroom victories, it is Murphy's view that the current approach to the state's involvement with delinquent children is a hopeless failure and that only fundamental changes can begin to break the cycle of poverty responsible for the plight of such children. And he's less than sanguine about the probability that these changes will occur.