Tuesday, March 15, 2005

wrap around our youth

good news came today in the form of the kqed webpage. their research found that several juvenille justice programs had come up with useful and creative ways to get kids out of the system. two of the programs were in northern california. it is inspiring and uplifting to see the process begin with young offenders, or at least youthfully accused.

the santa cruz and santa clara county programs were highlighted:

Santa Cruz County Probation Department, Santa Cruz, California
In an effort to reduce overcrowding and disproportionate confinement of Latino youth, Santa Cruz County volunteered to participate in a federal program aiming to lower juvenile populations in custody. With support from the National Juvenile Detention Association and the Youth Law Center, the county re-examined its admissions, screening and assessment. It also streamlined court processes and looked at creating new alternatives to detention. The county combined several such alternatives: home probation, daily visits from probation officers, electronic monitoring (in which youth wear an ankle bracelet), and community-based services such as 12-step meetings and supervised outings. The results were unprecedented -- more than 95 percent of youth attended all hearings and did not commit new offenses during the court process. The county has reduced its overall population of detained youth by at least 40 percent, and the number of Latino youth confined dropped 18 percent. The average length of stay at the Santa Cruz juvenile hall is about 10 days, compared to the state average of 27 days. The county also prides itself on its efforts to keep children with their families, and it has one of the lowest out-of-home placement rates in the state.

Santa Clara County Probation Department, Santa Clara, California
While there are many adult mental health courts across the country, Santa Clara County is the first juvenile probation department to experiment with a specialized court that links needy juvenile offenders with a variety of psychiatric services. Every young person booked into the county's juvenile hall is screened for serious mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. Through this process, the department has discovered that more than one in five children in the system are mentally ill. Most kids who come through the 1-year-old court qualify for Program UPLIFT, an intensive wraparound program designed to keep youth in their homes and to provide comprehensive mental health services. The county hopes to reduce the number of repeat offenders through treatment of the mental illness underlying some youthsâ criminal behavior.

Although there are innumerable counties that could explore and implement alternatives to incarceration for underaged detainees and those above the age of consent, it is quite timely that we are opening doors and windows in a political climate of secrecy and surrender.


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