Sharp Declines in Youth Placements Continue in Ohio’s Lucas County

Posted February 27, 2015
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog sharpdeclinesinyouthplacements 2015

The Chris­t­ian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor recent­ly ran a fea­ture sto­ry show­ing how juve­nile jus­tice lead­ers in Lucas Coun­ty, Ohio (Tole­do) — one of a hand­ful of Juve­nile Deten­tion Alter­na­tives Ini­tia­tive sites nation­wide that is work­ing with the Foun­da­tion to expand JDAI’s focus to the deep end of the sys­tem — are increas­ing­ly steer­ing court-involved youth away from cor­rec­tion­al insti­tu­tions and oth­er res­i­den­tial placements.

Lucas Coun­ty is one of the lead­ers,” the arti­cle declared, in a qui­et rev­o­lu­tion in juve­nile jus­tice sweep­ing across the coun­try… to pro­vide coun­sel­ing, drug treat­ment, and oth­er sup­port to young offend­ers rather than lock­ing them up.” 

Recent­ly released data not avail­able at the time of the inter­view indi­cate still more progress. 

In fis­cal year 2009, pri­or to sign­ing on as a JDAI site, Lucas Coun­ty com­mit­ted 76 youth to the Ohio Depart­ment of Youth Ser­vices, the state’s youth prison sys­tem. By fis­cal year 2012, when Lucas was named a deep end site, com­mit­ments had fall­en to 33 youth. In fis­cal year 2014, (which end­ed on June 30, 2014), the coun­ty com­mit­ted just 18 young peo­ple to state cus­tody. And in the first six months of fis­cal year 2015, only five youth were com­mit­ted. Mean­while, place­ments at a local cor­rec­tion­al facil­i­ty in Tole­do, the Youth Treat­ment Cen­ter, have also fall­en sig­nif­i­cant­ly over the past two years, and the county’s deten­tion cen­ter pop­u­la­tion, which aver­aged 67 in 2009 and 37 in 2013, fell to an aver­age of just 25 in 2014.

Assis­tant Court Admin­is­tra­tor Kendra Kec over­sees deten­tion and sev­er­al oth­er aspects of the Lucas Coun­ty juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem and attrib­ut­es the decline in place­ments to sev­er­al fac­tors that include: 

  • Open­ing a new assess­ment center
    Police offi­cers can take youth to this non-secure cen­ter rather than book­ing them into deten­tion. The cen­ter han­dled 915 cas­es involv­ing 725 youth in its first year. More than half of these young peo­ple had men­tal health needs and were referred to appro­pri­ate treat­ment. Instead of these youth being crim­i­nal­ized, instead of them being tak­en to deten­tion, we are now link­ing these youth to appro­pri­ate men­tal health ser­vices,” Kec says.
  • Nar­row­ing the school-to-prison pipeline
    The coun­ty has dra­mat­i­cal­ly reduced the num­ber of youth referred to court and detained for mis­be­hav­ior at school. School arrests have plum­met­ed from 489 (with 110 deten­tion admis­sions) in 2009 to just 25 (with 15 deten­tion admis­sions) in 2014.
  • Embrac­ing an evi­dence-based, data-dri­ven approach to com­mu­ni­ty supervision
    In 2011, the depart­ment began train­ing all of its offi­cers on a new mod­el of pro­ba­tion, Effec­tive Prac­tices in Com­mu­ni­ty Super­vi­sion (EPICS), which empha­sizes prin­ci­ples and prac­tices proven effec­tive in eval­u­a­tion research. The depart­ment also under­went an exhaus­tive self-assess­ment after sign­ing on as a Casey deep end site and has since trained all staff in moti­va­tion­al inter­view­ing to hone their skills in engag­ing youth and their fam­i­lies. The Court is now devel­op­ing a struc­tured deci­sion-mak­ing matrix to ensure greater objec­tiv­i­ty in han­dling cas­es and recent­ly received a Foun­da­tion grant to deep­en pro­ba­tion trans­for­ma­tion efforts in the com­ing years.

All of these reforms are linked,” says Annie Sal­sich, a Casey con­sul­tant who has been work­ing with Lucas Coun­ty lead­ers. They’re look­ing at ways to divert kids from deten­tion, at improv­ing the inter­ac­tions and engage­ment with youth, and ensur­ing that kids aren’t removed from their homes at the point of sen­tenc­ing. In oth­er words, this is not just about one point of the sys­tem (deten­tion, diver­sion, or deep end), but about the sys­tem as a whole and how each piece of reform affects the others.”

Lucas County’s progress stems from a philo­soph­i­cal com­mit­ment to help­ing each child as need­ed, using the my child’ test, ensur­ing that the right youth receive the right ser­vice at the right time and in the right place,” says Kec. Most often, she adds, that place’ does not need to be in a secure environment.”

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