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More kids on the block
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 09/24/2007

Juvenile When you hear the word ‘networking,’ things like MySpace, eHarmony, and career fairs probably come to mind. ‘Juvenile justice’ most likely is not the phrase that might pop into one’s head, but that’s exactly what a group of juvenile corrections and detention veterans want you to think of.

The American Correctional Association’s Juvenile Corrections Committee is intently pursuing its goal of offering more national conferences, workshops, and networking events that address what’s going on in the juvenile world as a whole. The committee recently invited juvenile justice professionals from across the United States to a roundtable discussion on trends in juvenile justice at ACA’s Kansas City summer conference, and they say they’re just getting warmed up.

“The whole idea is to get juvenile corrections and detention professionals to come together as a community,” says Wayne Liddell, co-chair of the committee and retired director of Michigan’s Berrien County Juvenile Center. “We want to really build the juvenile base within ACA and improve how we network across the country.”

The ACA roundtable was popular, as it drew 90 people to a room set up for only 60.

“It was a great opportunity for juvenile justice colleagues to connect and hear ideas from different areas in the country,” says Peggy Eggemeyer of the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, who moderated the discussion. “And having 90 people attend is a pretty remarkable showing of interest in juvenile issues.”

Hearing ideas from different states is a key component to stimulating the juvenile dialogue, especially since the structure and practices of juvenile systems can vary drastically between states.

“Within each state structure, juvenile corrections can fall into a lot of different areas,” explains Dianne Gadow, the chair of the committee and deputy director of the ADJC. “There are some states that have stand-alone agencies. Then you have some states where juvenile falls under the Department of Corrections. Those areas will have different philosophic stances and that tremendously impacts how the agencies are seen and what their values and goals are.”

On the detention side, the variety can be ever greater.

“Many states now have different organizational structures,” Liddell adds. “Juvenile detention sometimes runs at the state level agencies, sometimes by local courts, and sometimes by local administrative agencies like a county commissioner’s executive branch.”

Despite this disparity, many of the growing trends are the same.

“One thing we came up with in the workshop is that there’s a lot of common issues between juvenile detention and juvenile corrections,” Liddell says. “We are dealing with the same kinds of kids. It’s just the timeframe that’s different. We still have to provide security and treatment or services.”

Finding the balance between security and treatment is an issue Gadow says every juvenile system struggles with.

“We’re constantly asking, ‘Is it security or is it treatment?’” Gadow explains. “How do you balance? That is a real critical piece. We have to have a secure environment to keep the kids under control in the institution and in the community. We also have a responsibility for treatment, intervention, and rehabilitation.”

Arizona had to take a hard look at these questions after a series of deaths six years ago.

“We had three deaths in 2001 and 2002,” Gadow says, “and one of the key areas we’ve really been focusing on in the last three-and-a-half years has been suicide rates. Arizona is in the final stages of an agreement with the Department of Justice to decide what we want in place to monitor and assure kids are safe, especially kids that are dealing with significant issues and in crisis.”

The high percentage of juveniles in the justice system dealing with mental health issues is a national trend that Gadow says goes unnoticed.

“Forty-nine percent of the population in our system are identified with mental heath issues,” Gadow says. “That number is consistent with the average across the nation. We have to do something.”

“The challenge of working with children with mental health issues while they are incarcerated and once they come back into the community is definitely a theme across the country,” Eggemeyer adds.

The use of solitary confinement is also a challenge the committee believes the whole country is facing.

“The conditions of confinement, the isolation and separation processes where you isolate youth in crisis is another area of concern,” Gadow says. “How that’s handled can be monitored closely. These are the trends across the country being looked at in both corrections and detention.”

The committee hopes more national workshops will help find answers to these questions and pinpoint the best practices that are out there.

“The theme coming through the ACA roundtable is a focus on kids,” Gadow says. “It’s more than just a focus on issues, it’s a focus on kids and the opportunity to impact their lives and really realize some changes.”

“Crises have often driven juvenile systems to come out on one side or the other, either heavy security or heavy treatment,” Gadow adds, “but it’s a real balancing act that people have to work with in juvenile justice. The critical thing is if you can get a system or organization to a point where they feel very strong and able to carry out their philosophy and vision, then they can sustain themselves through crises.”

After the Kansas City conference, the committee heard the need for even more juvenile discussion forums.

“On our evaluations from the summer conference, many people commented that they would really like to see more juvenile justice workshops addressing a wider variety of issues,” Eggemeyer says.

“The feedback will help us figure out what more specific workshops to run for ACA’s winter conference,” Liddell adds. “We can work with ACA to make this a stronger focus in future conferences.”

So the next time you hear someone mention networking, think of the growing nationwide juvenile justice community. It’s talking about what works and what doesn’t in order to provide better services for youths and their communities.

Related Resources:

Read the latest research on juvenile justice trends

Visit the National Juvenile Detention Association

See what special programs ADJC is running


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