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Juvenile justice alternative still in development for Scott County
ALTERNATIVE JUVENILE CENTER STILL IN DEVELOPMENT

Juvenile justice alternative still in development for Scott County

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The Juvenile Detention Center located at 500 W. 4th St. in downtown Davenport, Iowa.

Roughly 30 years ago Scott Hobart worked with troubled kids at the Wittemyer Youth Center. He became the director of the Scott County Juvenile Detention Center in 1999. Today he's the Seventh Judicial District's chief juvenile court officer.

All of his time in the juvenile justice system has changed the way he looks at youthful offenders, incarceration, and rehabilitation. That change led him to be a supporter of the proposed Juvenile Assessment Center, as well as an advocate of a streamlined system to deliver youth and family support that isn't dependent on juvenile arrests.

"When I came up in the 1990s, we had limited diagnostic resources and we knew very little about populations," Hobart said. "We thought of a juvenile detention center as a 'wake-up' call for kids. You incarcerated a kid to send them the message that they didn't want to end up in a jail or prison as an adult.

"What I really saw was a lot of kids coming in with minor charges mixing in with high-need, high-risk youths — kids with mental illness, kids who were suffering all kinds of abuse. I saw kids attempt suicide. I saw depression and anxiety. And everything I saw over all the years changed my idea of juvenile justice."

The construction of a brick-and-mortar Juvenile Assessment Center and separate Family Support Center was first floated by Mayor Frank Klipsch and Davenport Police Chief Paul Sikorski in December. While the idea has support from a variety of key community officials — including Juvenile Detention Center Director Jeremy Kaiser, Ken Croken of the Scott County Board of Supervisors, Scott County Sheriff Tim Lane — there is no plan in place.

And there is no estimate of an assessment center's cost. Or a concrete projection of how it will be funded.

When the notion of an assessment center was first raised, some wondered how it would fit into a Scott County agenda that could include anywhere between $16 and $23 million to renovate or rebuild of the Juvenile Detention Center on 4th Street in Davenport.

"I would say there is some confusion out there about what an assessment center would be," Hobart said. "Because the idea was introduced a few months after the proposal for a new JDC, maybe some people thought this was being raised as an alternative to a new JDC."

Klipsch was among the public officials who stressed the assessment center and a new JDC are not mutually exclusive ideas.

"In the summer of 2018 we were in the middle of an explosion in car thefts and we just had a young man (Jovanita Jones) shot and killed," Klipsch said. "And while we have to seriously talk about how to keep the public safe, I felt, and so did others throughout the community, that we needed to start looking at how we get to kids before they start committing the most serious crimes."

Klipsch found a model in the Boulder County Juvenile Assessment Center in Colorado, a non-profit, public-private entity with an operating budget of $1.6 million a year. Molli Barker, the assessment center's executive director, even came to Davenport to consult on options.

"The biggest misconception about what we do is that we do everything here," Barker said. "That is not the case. I like to say we are a referral center — we do not try to duplicate services that already exist in our community."

Barker said the JAC in Boulder sees most of the young people arrested in one of "eight or nine" locations throughout a four-county area. The assessment center personnel are available to law enforcement 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If the juvenile arrested cannot reach a parent or relative, the Boulder JAC handles placement — freeing law enforcement from the burden of placement.

"We bring in the young person and their family and we assess both the crime and the lives of the juvenile and their family members," Barker explained. "From there, we can help get needed resources and help for the juvenile and the family members. And we can start working with offenders before they go to court and end up in the system."

Barker explained the importance of assessment and intervention.

"We know from experience that a kid can move through the system and end up in front of a judge for sentencing with no one knowing why that kid committed the crime, with no one knowing the circumstances of their lives," she said. "Through assessment, that's what we try to do. And through assessment, we try to get the juvenile help to deal with the real things they face. We still hold the juvenile accountable, but we try to start working on addressing the things that led to the offense."

Shaena Fazal, the representative from the Washington, D.C.-based Youth Advocate Program who will speak at the "Juvenile Justice and Jails" forum Oct. 5, echoed Barker. She said early intervention is the key to reducing juvenile crime.

"If a kid comes in with a minor offense, an assessment and evaluation is very valuable because you get a chance to see if the kid and, maybe, the family need help in areas," Fazal said. "Look at this way, sometimes the young girl riding in a stolen car is there because she's being trafficked by her pimp.

"Sometimes a kid steals because there's no food in his home. We find out all kinds of things when we sit down and we actually start to talk to these kids. What do most of these kids need? Help. Plain and simple."

Hobart agreed.

"The vast majority of kids who offend are ticketed, released to their parents, and don't see the inside of the JDC," he said. "But what do we know? Some of that majority are going to offend again — and they just may end up in the JDC.

"What if we had a way to sit down with kids the very first time they brush with the law? What if we had a chance to evaluate them, and determine the needs of that kid and the kid's family? We have a Restorative Justice Program where offenders — in this case, car thieves — meet their victims. It's been a great success. What if we could expand that program, or others like it?"

Hobart said the county will never eliminate the need for a JDC, but more can be done.

"There are kids who need detention — they are the ones who scare you," he said. "Ultimately, any system of juvenile justice must first protect the community. And no youth should be released until there's a comprehensive plan.

"But the truth is the vast majority of juvenile offenders don't need incarceration. And whether they are incarcerated or not, without some kind of intervention and rehabilitation, the community will not be safe. We will spend millions of dollars to put kids into a system that will increase the chances they will go out and do more crime."

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