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'We can't go forward if we don't talk to each other': Juvenile justice forum offers perspectives on incarceration, restorative justice

'We can't go forward if we don't talk to each other': Juvenile justice forum offers perspectives on incarceration, restorative justice

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Davenport's discussion about how to best address juvenile crime continued Saturday with a criminal justice forum at Modern Woodmen Park. 

Hosted by Scott County Supervisor Ken Croken and the Juvenile Justice Coalition of the Quad-Cities, panel speakers included the Davenport police chief, professors from St. Ambrose University and Grand View University, the Iowa Department of Human Rights and the Scott County Juvenile Detention/Diversion Programs.

The crowd of attendees discussed how to apply alternative sentencing when addressing juvenile crime.

"What we're about today is, how do we balance incarceration with other responses to crime," Croken said, including "other responses that might include community supervision and support, mental health treatment." 

At issue for some of the speakers is the potential for Scott County to construct a 64-bed detention center in Davenport. Studies done by the county have said the center, at an estimated cost of more than $30.5 million, would be needed by 2037 to accommodate an increase in youth offenders.

Shaena Fazel, of the Washington, D.C.-based Youth Advocate Program, spoke about the success of a program in Chicago called "Choose to Change." That program combines trauma-informed cognitive behavioral therapy with individualized mentorship and advocacy. The program focuses on boys aged 13-18 who have committed serious offenses.

"They're connected with a caring adult in the community who's with them all the time, even when formal services end. They're reconnected with school," Fazel said. They also reconnect with friends and recognize their personal trauma and how to respond to it. 

The numbers make it a public safety success as well, Fazel said. With more than 500 kids in the program in two years, she said the kids' probability of arrest for violent crime decreased by 44 percent, according to the University of Chicago crime lab. 

"This intervention works because it uses the power of human connection, authentic love and unconditional caring to address trauma," Fazel said.

Cost is another benefit of the program, Fazel said. The program in Chicago costs about $75-85 a day and could serve 500-900 kids with a budget of $16-24 million. "If you have the money here to build a new detention center, you absolutely have the money to invest in kids without incarcerating a single one of them," she said, to applause. 

Scott County Juvenile Detention/Diversion Program Director Graham Kaiser noted he had helped implement programs to decrease the number of juveniles in the detention center. Among these is a program that helps those who have been in long-term facilities reintegrate back into the community and the auto theft restorative justice program.

"I think to say that we want to lock them up and throw away the key is just unfair, and it's just an inaccurate representation of what we want to do with the new detention facility," Kaiser said as the crowd applauded again. "We're trying to implement programs. We're trying to divert as many as we can."

One statewide program in use is the detention screening tool, which scores defendants based on the severity of the offense, prior offenses in the last six months and whether they're on probation. If the total score is 13 or more, the defendant is detained; if not, they are allowed to go home. 

Kaiser noted that in 2018, the program averaged 18 kids a day and 21 in 2019. The detention center tries to keep about 14 beds full; others are sent outside of their communities to other facilities throughout Iowa. 

Additionally, the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Act, which goes into effect in December 2021, will prevent juveniles from being held in adult jails unless the court finds they can't be safely held in detention. "We have a significant amount of juveniles being held in adult jails," Kaiser said.

Police Chief Paul Sikorski said his priority was to reduce the recidivism. The department also engages in the community with a variety of groups for restorative justice. "It's not going to be solved by the police department. But we are a part; we are one of those cogs on the wheel, and it's necessary to work with our partners."

Sikorski said everyone wants to work with community partners for restorative justice, and they need to get involved early and work with not only youth, but also with families. "But there's also a sense from our community that before we get there, we need to make sure we're safe. We have to be safe," he said. "We have youth that if they're not incarcerated, they're committing crimes." 

Margie Meija-Carabello, vice president of the non-profit Progressive Action for the Common Good, spoke about her personal experience with restorative justice. "On a personal level, it can and it does work, and it is much much less expensive than going through the system," she said. "When we're talking about restorative justice, we're talking about allowing people to come into a room, talk to each other, come to real solutions and allow people to go on with their lives." 

More beds, Meija-Carabello said, is not a solution.

Iowa Department of Human Rights Division Administrator Steve Michael said what they want to see is the expansion of community-based services that meet the needs of different youth. He noted there were facilities around the state that don't use the beds that they have, including Polk County and Lynn County. 

As research improves and shows the effects of services, Michael said he believes recidivism will decrease. "I just really believe that, based on what I've heard this morning and the work we've done in Scott County over the last few years, you are heading in the right direction," he said. 

Racism was also addressed, with tempers briefly flaring after Grand View University professor Kevin Gannon talked about racism in the juvenile justice system. Scott County, he said, exists in a system that is inherently racist and not in a vacuum. After saying the system of incarceration had been passed down from slave patrols and that in certain municipalities there was a major overlap between police and the Ku Klux Klan, he was interrupted by Scott County Sheriff Tim Lane.

"We would not accept that within our ranks," Lane said. "I've been in law enforcement over 30 years, and I did not come from there. My family did not come from there."

Gannon said he did not call anyone racist, and that the higher education system was also a racist system.

"We have to stop weaponizing our discomfort against calling things what they are," he said. "I don't like to look at these institutions and see what I see. That doesn't change what I see." 

Croken, who earlier had advocated for balance, said at the end of the forum it was important to get information out in the open. He also noted just about everyone in the room had raised their hands when Chief Sikorski had asked if they thought they could do better.

"How many of you think there's a bad guy in this story, and someone who doesn't want the best for kids?" he asked. "We have to acknowledge problems if we're going to address them, and I hope we can do so in a way that's not overly defensive but clarifying information. But every question and every comment is not criticism. We can't go forward if we don't talk to each other." 

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