As a juvenile court judge, you have the important responsibility to protect public safety. What did you do, or what helped you the most to address that public safety risk while helping more kids in the community, and use youth incarceration less and less?
We used the research and the facts to lead the discussion. After assuring the community partners that the Court had no intention of compromising community safety, we began the process of looking at detention alternatives in the community to implement. Law enforcement plays a significant role.
As we found gaps in alternatives, we began to look at program development to meet the need of keeping the youth in the community while not compromising community safety while their matters are pending. We developed the different levels of community control beginning with a daily reporting center concept to a monitored form of house arrest.
This process next translated to our efforts to look at alternatives to incarceration when an adjudicated delinquent felony offending youth was facing long term incarceration. The Juvenile Sex Offender Treatment Program was developed based upon research and evidence-based programming using this model.(highly successful). When making dispositional orders, the question from the bench becomes, "Can this youth be maintained in the community with services to meet his/her needs and keep the community safe?"
Obviously you’ve led some pretty remarkable reforms in Lucas County. What lessons would you have for others in your position to lead similar change?
The Court, service providers, community members, attorneys and law enforcement, victims advocates and other community members must be given the research and information coming available every day about youth development, validated screening and assessment tools, need to engage families, reducing risk factors related to recidivism, such as truancy, unaddressed behavioral health issues, quality programming and interventions.
Create a continuum of community-based services to address a youth's particular needs without compromising safety. Allow the community to give feedback, partner with the Court and come to consensus on what is important to the community. Emphasize that youth always come home when incarcerated. It makes more sense to work with the youth in the community to improve the likelihood of positive outcomes when public safety is not compromised. Cognitive based interventions are a must. And, be true to your word with the community and families. There must be an honest conversation about minority disproportionality.
The goal should be to treat all youth in the same fashion you would expect your child to be treated.
You said you reduced youth incarceration in Lucas County. How did you pay for the community-based programs? Was it through redirecting dollars from beds to community? grants? a combination?
Dollars should follow the youth. Redirecting dollars saved by the decreased detention population to programming allows the youth to engage in meaningful and effective community intervention without compromising public safety. Ohio Juvenile Courts have the opportunity to use RECLAIM Ohio dollars to implement programming to avoid youth from committment to the Ohio Department of Youth Services. Use grant funding and technical assistance to insure that the programming is not hurting kids or having no or little impact on changing behavior (e.g. scared straight programs) but creates positive outcomes for youth and families. Develop partnerships with stakeholders and others to address risk factors causing further entrenchment in the school to prison pipeline, such as truancy, school misbehavior, and violence (e.g. diversion programs).