Keeping kids out of court
Judging from today’s headlines, one might believe that juvenile crime is growing to uncontrollable proportions. In reality, national statistics show that, since 1996, juvenile crime has declined, and only 15 percent of juveniles re-offend after their first arrest. Nevertheless, the nation’s eyes are on children in trouble, and communities are looking for creative ways to improve the view.
The following case studies represent select portions of juvenile justice programs in a cross-section of the nation’s counties. They illustrate community responses to law enforcement officials, offenders and victims, and all share a common purpose: to instill a sense of accountability in the offender and to prevent the juvenile delinquent from joining the criminal minority.
Two years ago, police officers in Oklahoma County, Okla., faced a dilemma common to many cities and counties: After arresting a juvenile, they were responsible for staying with the child until the parents could retrieve him. Often, that process took hours, during which the arresting officer was out of commission. As a result, officers were disinclined to arrest youths for minor offenses, and, if they did arrest, they were likely, in some cases, to release the child “in the field.”
“The attitude on the part of the kids has been ‘We’re not going to be held accountable,'” says Wes Lane, assistant district attorney and director of the juvenile division for Oklahoma County’s District Attorney’s Office. “They might have gotten picked up, they might have gotten released on the street, or they were in and out [of custody] so fast they felt nothing had happened.”
The attitudes of police officers and youths are changing, however, thanks in large part to the county’s Community Intervention Center (CIC), a central processing facility where juvenile offenders can be booked quickly and held in custody while officers return to their beats. Authorized in 1995, the center opened last June and is one of seven similar pilot facilities in the state.
Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the center is staffed by 19 full-time employees. “On any given shift, we have no fewer than three people, and we may have as many as five or six, with capacity to call in additional staff if needed,” says Ken Young, chief executive officer for Youth Services For Oklahoma County, the not-for-profit organization that manages the center. Staff members assist in processing the arrest, evaluating the child and his family, and in coordinating intervention services.
“For the officer, it’s almost like an express lane,” says Major James Fitzpatrick of the Oklahoma City Police Department. “You get the kid there, take care of your paperwork, stay for processing, which involves fingerprinting and photographing, and you return to service.” The average length of stay for the officer is 15 minutes, he notes, adding that, because of the center’s location, most officers can drive from the arrest site to the center in 10 to 15 minutes.
For the offender, the experience is not so short. Once he is processed, the child is placed sans belt and shoes in a waiting room, then meets with CIC staff members for assessment. “The assessment is an attempt to look at the whole child and the whole family,” Young says. “You’re finding out how well they do in school; you’re asking about drug and alcohol abuse; you’re asking questions about mental health status.”
Additionally, a CIC staff member checks the youth’s previous arrest record using the state’s online juvenile tracking system. “If the kid is in the system, we update the information with the offense. If the child is not in the system, we enterthem into it,” Young says.
With a profile in place, CIC staffers meet with the child and his parent(s). “We develop a profile of the young person and the family,” Young says. “Then our job is to develop a plan with significant input from them about what they’re willing to do to fix the problem.” Based on its needs and willingness (without adjudication, the services are accepted voluntarily), the family is connected with appropriate state, county and community services.
On average, the child is held in the CIC for a little more than four hours. Following the family conference, a parent or guardian signs a promise to appear in court, and the child is released.
The CIC handles misdemeanor and status offenses as a general rule. To date, it has processed 2,467 children, ranging in age from 5 to 17 years old. Only 226 of those have re-offended.
The low recidivism can be attributed in part to the dramatic impact of the experience, Lane says. “If you steal a $1 packet of Chiclets at the convenience store, you’re going to be arrested,” he notes. “You’re not going to be released to your parent right then and there; you’re not going to be taken to your house and dumped off or dumped off in the street. You’re going to be taken to a secure facility (locked and under camera); you’re going to be fingerprinted, photographed and held in custody. That is in stark contrast to the way things were.”
“You can’t say that the impact of the community intervention center is such that every kid’s going to be affected,” Fitzpatrick adds. “You could have a kid — a thief, a burglar or a predator — in the CIC on a curfew violation. Well, this place isn’t going to have a high impact on this kid; he’s been through it. But for the first-time offender, if it’s an impressionable part of life, this might work.”
Although one might assume that arrest rates would increase with the availability of the CIC, they have in fact remained steady — a fact that Fitzpatrick attributes to timing. “Last summer, the center was new, and not everybody was totally involved with how the process worked,” he explains. “There were still some arrests that were possibly being released in the field.”
Since then, all city and county law enforcement officers have been trained to consider the CIC as one of their custody options. (Depending on the age of the offender and the type of crime committed, a juvenile still might be transported to the county jail or the juvenile detention facility.) As a result, Fitzpatrick says, “Maybe this summer (when arrests for curfew and status offenders tend to increase), we’ll see some other [arrest] trends.”
In the meantime, no one in Oklahoma County is worried about arrest rates. “As far as police operations are concerned, [the center] has been a success,” Fitzpatrick says. “The youths are effectively processed, the officers are getting back in the field, and we’re seeing a uniform method of dealing with each and every arrest.”
Young is similarly satisfied. “For the kids, there is a consequence; something happens immediately,” he says. Furthermore, the CIC allows the community to intervene on behalf of families that seek assistance. “I’m able to connect kids to services, to mentors, to successful people who, if the connection occurs, will stay significant in their lives for a long time,” he says.
It takes a village
Community connections are at the heart of Adolescent Services Grant (ASG), a program initiated 18 months ago in Dakota County, Minn. The program handles emotionally disturbed and violent youths, ages 10 to 18 (the majority being 13 through 15), and attempts to provide the structure and services necessary to allow the offenders to remain in their homes.
“Probably 80 percent of the kids have been arrested and are on probation,” says Tom Adkins, deputy director for Dakota County Community Corrections. “But this program also will take kids who haven’t been charged but who have a demonstrated history of violent acts.” In most cases, the offender has committed a “person crime” such as assault.
“The primary goal (of ASG) is to keep people in their communities,” Adkins says. He notes that the program’s target population has traditionally been placed in custody outside the home, and, because Dakota County does not have its own juvenile facility, the county has purchased residential or detention space from other jurisdictions.
“The [ASG] population is tough to place, so we’d find that some of those kids are placed in other states,” Adkins says. “How do you maintain contact with your family, your public defender, your probation officer? There are times with certain types of kids that you want to look for that distance, but, as a general rule, it’s not the best way to go.”
(This July, the county is opening a 40-bed regional detention facility that it wants to reserve for the area’s highest risk offenders. The ASG target population would typically not be included in that group.)
As an alternative to out-of-home placement, ASG coordinates the integration and mental health services necessary to allow the emotionally disturbed and violent juvenile to remain in a connected setting. It begins with a meeting in which ASG personnel gather with the child, the parent(s) and significant, supportive figures who know the family.
“Sometimes you have a family that’s motivated to try and deal with this, and they volunteer to be a part of it because they want to be,” Adkins says. “In other cases, it’s the kid’s last chance to stay in the community, and therefore the program becomes a condition and is ordered by the court.”
The group may include “an uncle, an aunt, a pastor, a counselor or somebody else,” Adkins explains. “We’re listening to the kid, and we’re listening to the people who know this child best. And that team helps determine what services are needed.”
“Our goal in setting up the wraparound team is to have 51 percent of the team non-professional,” says ASG Coordinator Leslie Yunker. “We’re looking at extended family members, neighbors, anyone who has a vested interest in and knowledge of this child’s and family’s strengths and concerns.”
Based on diagnostic assessment and the team’s recommendations, necessary services are coordinated. “They include categorical services like diagnostic assessment, mental health services and some things like recreational services, camps, YMCA membership or parenting services,” Yunker says. “We also look at providing non-traditional services, like music lessons, based on the strengths of the particular child.”
“They also will bring in multi-systemic therapy,” Adkins says. “The counselors do a lot of intensive work up front, so they may be in the house three to five times a week in the beginning. They follow a cognitive behavioral approach, which focuses on how our thoughts and values lead to our behaviors. We focus on the criminal thinking behind the act.”
Services are delivered by team members, county agencies, community organizations, and, in some cases, contracted third parties. “[The child] may have six, eight or more providers, so the business of coordination is incredibly important,” Adkins says.
ASG provides nine to 12 months of services. Because of the potentially large number of providers involved, and because of the types and duration of services needed, families are assessed for their ability to contribute financially. “We only purchase a service when there is no other means of providing that for the child,” Yunker says.
“Some of these families are so poor that they cannot afford the fees to get someone into a recreational program,” Adkins explains. “So the program may pay the fee instead of [us] spending $150 to $200 a day to place that individual (in a residential facility).”
Fifty-six children currently are enrolled in ASG. According to Yunker, the program’s success is being measured by four major indicators: * a significant reduction in out-of-home placement; * a significant increase in school attendance and performance; * a significant reduction in the type and frequency of violent behavior exhibited by the child; and * the absence of additional criminal petitions.
The program is too new to provide comprehensive numbers, Yunker says, but she does see some positive effects. “Fifty percent of the kids have significant out-of-home placement prior to becoming involved in our program,” she says. “For the latest quarter, after 90 days in the program, 71 percent of the kids had zero days of out-of-home placement; after 180 days, 74 percent; and after 270 days, 90 percent.”
Adkins reports that the program’s participants are not being re-arrested and that ASG has hit its stride. “Kids who learn to function in residential programs don’t necessarily learn to function in the community,” he says. “[ASG is] replicating the services [the youths] would receive in a residential facility without removing them from the community.”
Righting the wrong
Albeit with a different sort of offender than the one profiled by Dakota County, Deschutes County, Ore., is shifting its approach to juvenile justice by opening the doors to the community’s victims. “We’re moving the system from a counseling, therapeutic approach to one that gives the offender a far greater sense of accountability,” says Dennis Maloney, director of the county’s Department of Community Justice.
“It’s a philosophy built around restorative justice, and it starts first and foremost with having the offender deal with his responsibility to his victim,” Maloney says. “Our highest priority is to have the offender really feel the human consequences of their crime. We’ll do everything we can to have them be held accountable directly to their victim.”
As part of that goal, the county has established a program in which police officers and community justice officials can divert low-risk offenders from the court and move them directly into a restorative process. Called “Fast-track Accountability,” the program offers three options: * Teen court. For crimes that reflect poorly on the youthful population at large (e.g., vandalism), the offender faces a jury of his peers that recommends a sentence to be approved by the court’s adult judge (an attorney or retired judge who has volunteered to serve). The court follows a grand jury model in which volunteer youths and previous offenders serve as “attorneys,” bailiffs and jurors. * Mediation. For crimes against an individual, the offender faces his victim, and his sentence is determined by a trained mediator, with input from the victim. * Merchant accountability board. For shoplifting, check fraud and employee theft charges, the offender faces a representative of local merchants (the pool includes 16 representatives from the area’s major department stores), who, as in mediation, offers input regarding the sentence.
“The police have some discretion here,” Maloney says, adding that each of the county’s four major cities has a police diversion officer. “They can go directly [to the diversion options], but, if they’re not quite sure what the kid’s history is, or if the offense is a little more serious than they’re comfortable with, they can send him to us. We can recommend prosecution, or we can refer them back down.”
In each of the diversion options, the victim has the opportunity to ask the offender and his parent(s) questions that might otherwise not be allowed in a courtroom. Additionally, the victim is able to voice the effect of the crime and express his needs for restitution. “We really emphasize bringing the victim into the equation and having them explain and confront in human terms what the offender has done to them,” Maloney says.
Although victims do not set the sentences, their input weighs heavily in the final decision. “When victims are denied access to the justice system, they’re far more vengeful,” Maloney says. “But when they’re allowed to participate, they have a surprisingly more understanding nature about them, and they can get very creative (with their recommendations).”
That is especially true in teen court, he says. “The kids come up with far more creative stuff than we ever would,” Maloney says. “If you vandalize the school, you might not only have to clean the school, but you might also have to go to the student council and make a presentation about what the hell you were thinking when you did it.”
“The role of the court is not necessarily punishment or to hammer these kids, but to come up with consequences that make sense,” says Mary Engstrom, program coordinator for the LaPine Youth Diversion Services Program. She oversees the city’s teen court, which hears cases involving a variety of offenses, including possession, theft, burglaries, assaults, harassment, vandalism and traffic violations.
“The sentence has to be something that’s attainable so the kid can see the light at the end of the tunnel and can complete what’s been required of him,” Engstrom says. “[In LaPine], I have overall veto power, but we’ve never had a problem with the kids being overly stringent.”
Almost all diversionary sentences include some form of community service, Maloney says. “We believe that every time you commit a wrongdoing, you not only hurt the individual victim, but you also hurt the community,” he explains. “So the offender carries a dual responsibility.”
Once the sentence is completed, the youth’s case is dismissed. (If it was handed down by a teen court, the former offender must then serve a minimum of one time on the court’s jury.) If the sentence is not completed, the case is referred back to community justice officials, who may then require a more structured form of restitution or pursue prosecution.
“It’s a pretty straightforward approach,” Maloney says. “You offer the carrot, and you back it up with a stick.
“I don’t mind telling people there’s healthy coercion with some of the things we’re doing,” he continues. “We [tell the offender], ‘Go repair your harm; if you don’t, we’re fully prepared to put your rear end in jail.'”
The results are compelling, Maloney says. Sixty percent of the county’s juvenile arrests are being handled in the Fast-track Accountability program, and, in cases requiring restitution, 90 percent of offenders are completing their sentences. Engstrom adds that recidivism in LaPine’s teen court is 5 percent.
“The more you can personalize the impact of the crime on the offender, the higher rate of return on the fulfillment of restitution,” Maloney says. “Usually, it’s the system that imposes the accountability, and the offenders learn real quick that they need to be accountable to the system. But [in that scenario], they’ll never really be held accountable to the victim.”
The Minneapolis Police Department is hosting its seventh Citizen Police Academy, a series of courses designed to give citizens a better understanding of law enforcement’s role in their community. During the 12-week program, experienced police officers and executives provide classroom instruction and demonstrations regarding all aspects of police work.
Courses began in March for a group of 30 citizens, including business and neighborhood leaders, educators, homemakers and retirees. “Students” meet for three hours each Wednesday night and delve into topics such as forged documents, search warrants, narcotics, gang units, use of force, searching rules, weapons, crime scene processing and homicide investigations. In addition to receiving classroom instruction, students participate in “shoot/don’t shoot” scenarios within the firearm training simulator, and they tour the city’s 9-1-1 dispatch center, the handgun range and the Hennepin County jail.
Weeks 10 and 11 of the program focus heavily on the police department’s community-oriented efforts. Officers discuss the department’s bicycle patrol, community service bureau, community programs such as SAFE and DARE, school patrol and the police athletic league. During the academy’s final week, participants evaluate their experiences and engage in a question-and-answer session with Police Chief Robert Olson.
More than 35 Citizen Police Academies operate within the United States. The first National Citizen Police Academy Conference is scheduled June 2–5 in Little Rock, Ark.
Hosted by the Little Rock Police Department, the Little Rock CPA Alumni Association and The National CPA Association, the conference is designed for law enforcement agencies that have a Citizen Police Academy or would like to learn more about the program. Session topics will include: how to start a CPA program; CPA curriculum; administrative support/budgeting; how to attract participants; fund raising and public relations.
For additional information, contact Jim Ponzini, Little Rock CPA Alumni Association, (501) 228-9933.
When violent crime threatened the security of a popular fitness trail in Columbia, Mo., city officials introduced Park Patrol, a volunteer-driven program that serves as a Neighborhood Watch for the Great Outdoors. Seven months later, volunteers participating in the program had logged more than 1,900 hours.
The MKT Fitness Trail is named for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, which cut a rail line through the area during the early 1900s. Seventy years later, Columbia bought rights to use the land, and, in 1982, the rails were removed, and the site was converted for recreational use.
The 4.7-mile trail hosts more than 250,000 visitors per year. Two years ago, when a local citizen was sexually assaulted on the trail, the city realized that the high-traffic park needed a security presence that exceeded the normal police patrols.
“The police force needed extra eyes and ears out on the trail each day, and we simply didn’t have the manpower to be out there every hour the park was open,” says Columbia Police Department Sgt. Danny Grant. As a result, Park Patrol was introduced last May, and more than 200 people signed up to assist the department.
Today, more than 150 volunteers participate in Park Patrol, some working more than 20 hours per week, says Elizabeth Dumm, coordinator for Columbia’s Office of Volunteer Services. Volunteers range in age from 18- to 71-years-old, and they include students, retirees and families.
Park Patrol operates at the trail from sunrise to sunset, with anywhere from two to 20 volunteers working at a given time. Participants, each of whom is assigned a specific portion of the trail to cover, wear yellow and blue shirts with “Park Patrol” printed on them.
Some volunteers travel by foot and some by bicycle, and all carry cellular telephones that allow immediate communication with emergency personnel. Donated by Chicago-based United States Cellular, the telephones are programmed with four direct-dial numbers, which may be used to: * report an emergency; * contact the police department for non-emergency help; * contact the city parks department to report maintenance needs; and * log work hours through a voice mail system.
Pleased with Park Patrol’s success in raising the trail’s security presence, Columbia officials are considering expanding the program. Two trails totaling nearly 15 miles are being constructed and will join the MKT Fitness Trail within the next two years. “We’re hoping the addition of the two new trails will bring out even more park users and more park volunteers,” Dumm says.
Like many other counties throughout the nation, Blount County, Tenn., has received a federal court order to alleviate overcrowding in its local jail. The county was sued for overcrowding in 1992, and, after building a temporary center for relief, it exceeded capacity again.
Today, according to Sheriff James Berrong, the county is spending $15,000 per month to board inmates in neighboring jails and to pay fines. “We are sending 20 to 25 prisoners a day to other facilities, and we are still violating the court order,” he says.
Two years ago, in nearby Robertson County, officials faced the same dilemma. The jail was certified to house 56 inmates but regularly held 90 to 100. “We were right at the point of having the federal government step in, so we had to do something,” County Executive Roy Apple says.
Pressed for time and money, Robertson County officials chose to build a new jail using precast concrete. The 242-bed facility, located on the site of the former county hospital, was built for $4.7 million using components from Tindall Corp., Spartanburg, S.C.
The 80,000-square-foot hospital building was converted to administrative space, and the new jail was connected to it. “We were able to put our jail together in 14 months from the time we went to the drawing board to the day it was completed,” Apple says.
The jail is designed so the county can double its capacity if necessary. In the future, an upper floor will house a General Sessions courtroom, eliminating the need for inmates to travel to court appearances.
Anticipating a similar outcome, Blount County has broken ground on a 302-bed, precast jail. The facility is part of a $19 million complex that will include administrative offices and courtrooms in addition to the jail.