In One Ohio County, Juvenile Court and Law Enforcement Have a Common Goal: Diversion

Posted July 10, 2017, By the Annie E. Casey Foundation

In 2013, the juvenile court in Ohio’s Cuyahoga County — home to the city of Cleveland — analyzed detention utilization data from the preceding year. The big takeaway? The largest population group in the county’s juvenile detention system consisted of local youth charged with non-violent offenses rooted in a family conflict.

Court officials in the county, which is a Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) site, agreed that detention was not the right response for these youth, and they began searching for alternatives. Local police chiefs responded enthusiastically to the prospect of collaborating and, in 2014, a new pilot program called Coordinated Approach to Low-risk Misdemeanors (C.A.L.M.) was born.

C.A.L.M. offers respite care for young people involved in low-level domestic violence offenses and also connects families to services, when needed. Responding officers directly refer youth to program, which excludes youth charged with serious domestic violence offenses as well as youth with an open juvenile case or a closed misdemeanor or felony case.

Once youth are deemed eligible for C.A.L.M., a social worker promptly screens them and connects them with a respite home. These youth are also assigned a case manager, who links the involved family to services and helps the family reunite, if possible.

The program is still small — operating in just two districts. But, so far, it’s working. Of the 70-plus youth who have participated in C.A.L.M., only three have been involved in a subsequent domestic violence case.

On the ground, officers overwhelmingly support the program, according to Commander Brandon Kutz of Cleveland’s Fourth District. “It makes sense and it works,” he says. In Kutz’s department, C.A.L.M. reduces how long a frontline officer spends on a case by 38%. Add detectives and prosecutors into the equation — who typically enter the picture later — and the time savings shoots even higher.

Renee Edel, the court improvement project manager for the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court, hopes that C.A.L.M. will expand to more police districts in the county, and she wants to share the program’s early lessons learned. To this end, both Edel and Kutz welcome inquiries from jurisdictions interested in adopting the approach.

“JDAI sites such as Cuyahoga County are pursuing innovations to shield young people from the trauma and disruption of detention and to address the underlying family issues that caused the conflict,” says Nate Balis, director of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Strategy Group. “C.A.L.M. is one of many examples we feature in the latest JDAI practice guide, which offers practical advice about how JDAI sites can establish and maintain effective partnerships with law enforcement.”

Read more about forging partnerships between JDAI and law enforcement