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Scott County official proposes pilot program to curb youth detention
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Scott County official proposes pilot program to curb youth detention

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The Scott County Board of Supervisors will meet Tuesday to consider a proposal to provide an alternative to youth incarceration and keep children safely at home.

Supervisor Ken Croken will ask supervisors to accept an offer by Youth Advocate Program of Harrisburg, Penn., to establish a pilot program that would provide a home-based alternative to detention for high-risk, high-need teens facing serious felony charges.

The proposal is separate and distinct from last week's announcement of a new public-private funding agreement for a youth assessment program in Scott County.

Croken has been a chief critic and the lone dissenting vote among county supervisors over plans to more than double the size of Scott County's 18-bed juvenile detention facility.

He and state officials have said the proposed 40-bed facility is unneeded, and that money is better invested in restorative justice and diversion programs and behavioral and mental health services shown to lower juvenile crime.

"The trend nationally is to right-size, downside or close youth prisons and large detention centers and redirect funds from detention of youth to community-based programs that are most cost effective and get better outcomes," Youth Advocate Program CEO Jeff Fleischer said. "In the Quad-Cities, they’re going in the opposite direction it seems."

The pilot program, which is subject to approval by Juvenile Court Services for Scott County, would provide three- to six-month intervention that offers "intensive, community-based, family-focused" wraparound and professional mentoring services that focus on addressing each teen's specific needs, including helping them secure employment, process trauma and develop a new set of decision-making tools.

All costs of the one-year, community-based pilot program — including management, staffing, operations and facility fees — will be borne entirely by the Youth Advocate Program, up to a maximum of $500,000, utilizing a $20 million grant from the Ballmer Group. Steve Ballmer is the former CEO of Microsoft and current owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers.

Services would be delivered in partnership with the Lincoln Resource Center, with a goal of assisting 40 to 50 teens who would otherwise be incarcerated in the Scott County Juvenile Detention Center, Fleischer said.

At the conclusion of the 12-month program, an independent, community-based committee would evaluate outcomes and recommend termination or continuation of the program at county expense.

Scott County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ken Beck argues it's a question for the juvenile court officials, not the county.

"The diversion programs, the judges determine, you know, how that works and if they're going to use them or not," Beck said. "That's who they have to sell the program to."

Chief Juvenile Court Officer Scott Hobart was out of the office Friday and could not be reached for comment.

"These types of programs, again, are not something that's in the wheelhouse of the county," Beck said. "Ours is to detain the juveniles until they have their day in court. But, if it's a vessel by which we can reduce the cost to the county, then obviously that's something we're interested in. And, if it's something that will help the kids out, then obviously that's something we're interested in, too."

Beck, too, noted Vera French Community Mental Health Cengter operates a "very, very similar program, Multi-Systemic Therapy, that's all privately funded.

"If there is a program we would want to expand, since that's very similar program — it's proven and evidenced-based — that's a program we would go with locally more so than bringing somebody in with kind of a similar bag of tools," Beck said.

Begun in 1975, YAP operates programs in 100 communities in 31 states and Washington, D.C., providing alternatives to detention, incarceration or other out-of-home placements of children.

The nonprofit diversion programs seek to fill gaps in services and reduce youth violence while improving educational outcomes outside of an institutional setting and advancing economic mobility and social justice for more families.

Juvenile Court judges, probation officials and public defenders would select teens to refer to the program, Fleischer said.

Program staff would conduct a wide-ranging assessment evaluating the teen's strengths, weaknesses and needs, as well as that of that family. Relatives and others would also be brought in to support the family, whether a minister, neighbor, coach, teacher or school official. An individualized plan is designed to leverage the teen's strengths in order to work on their weaknesses and address their needs, Fleischer said.

The program would then match youth with neighborhood advocates. The paid, trained mentors, who come from backgrounds and communities similar to that of the youth, would help the teens and their families implement the plan and connect them to community resources and tools that reinforce their goals, from transportation to housing assistance to childcare, legal services and more.

Advocates would also help teens find a job and provide subsidized employment when needed. 

"They provide wraparound support," which includes a broad spectrum of services, from helping youth obtain basic necessities to motivation and direction on larger goals, such as employment and college, Fleischer said.

On average, advocates spend 10 to 15 hours a week supporting teens and their families.

In Hamilton County, Ohio, since launching in January of 2020, 97% of youth who participated in YAP's diversion program were not convicted of a new offense while in the program and 76% regularly attended or completed school at the time of their discharge. Those numbers are consistent with national statistics of other YAP programs, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

Since launching in 2015, Fleischer also pointed to a YAP-supported program launched in Chicago in 2015 that has served more than 600 teens actively involved in or at risk of becoming involved in gang activity.

According to a February 2020 study by the University of Chicago Crime and Education Labs, youth who participated in the program had 38% fewer arrests for violent crime than a randomized control group of their peers 18 months after completing the program. And 33% were less likely to have any arrest at all compared to their control peers two and a half years after they ended the program.

"Large detention centers and youth prison just don’t work," Fleischer said. "We invest a lot of money in these large institutions, and communities are no safer when we use these facilities for our kids. Kids deserve real services that go upstream and find the root causes of their behavior — poverty, racial discrimination and lack of resources — and have real supports that are ongoing."

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