Juvenile Court Aims for Prevention

By Mandel, Eric | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), September 6, 2012 | Go to article overview

Juvenile Court Aims for Prevention


Mandel, Eric, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


Juveniles referred to detention in Dubuque County 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 891 886 852 784 840 684 666

Dubuque area law enforcement and officials in the juvenile court system are in the midst of applying prevention techniques to combat future criminal behavior.

The results are inconclusive but perhaps on the right track.

Based, in part, on the concept of "peer contagion" - that deviant behavior can spread by detaining "low-risk" youth alongside "high- risk" youth - Juvenile Court Services diverts youth away from the criminal system for all first-time, simple misdemeanor charges, when possible. The result is that

25 percent fewer juvenile delinquents were referred to the Dubuque detention center in 2011 than six years earlier.

"We used to believe that locking up a delinquent was 'good for them;' it would really 'show them' and they would change their behavior," said Ruth Frush, chief juvenile court officer in the 1st Judicial District. "Research tells us that very few 'see the light' in detention and change their behavior because of that intervention - for most youth, detention does more harm than good."

Meanwhile, in the almost

18 months since the city of Dubuque passed a parental responsibility ordinance that essentially gives police the right to file charges for being a bad parent, two citations have been issued. The ordinance, along with increased partnership with Juvenile Court Services, was supposed to assist in limiting the number of repeat juvenile offenders in the city.

However, police still feel they are fighting the same cyclical fight.

"Our officers sometimes get frustrated when they deal with the same offenders over and over again," said Lt. Scott Baxter. "We realize the juvenile court system and judges all have parameters to operate under, but when you are the officer on the street and continue to run into the same people - juveniles and adults - you wonder what is wrong with the system."

A 2006 study from the Child Welfare League of America said that placing vulnerable youth in deviant groups is the most common and most costly of all public policy responses to deviant behavior in education, mental health and juvenile justice settings. The Iowa Juvenile Court System began to incorporate "evidence-based practices," which refers to the combination of juvenile corrections with treatment programs, in 2007.

Juvenile Court Services incorporated the "peer contagion" research by determining programs and services according to a risk assessment. Frush said probation officers across the state use the Iowa Delinquency Assessment, where youths are categorized into low, moderate, or high risk to re-offend. "Low risk" youth are always pushed toward diversion programs.

Juveniles are afforded the same rights as adults, but Associate Juvenile Judge Thomas Straka said the goals in juvenile court are a bit different than in the adult system. …

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