What to do with young law breakers

LIHUE — Jail versus probation?

When is it appropriate to give a perpetrator a second chance over locking them up?

Should Kauai keep them here or send them away?

Members of the PEW Charitable Trust were on island Monday at 5th Circuit Court to figure out those questions and more, as more than 30 stakeholders gathered to learn how to more effectively work with youth in the criminal justice system.

The neighbor island feedback is to be included in a report to the 20-member state Juvenile Justice Working Group.

A leading concern was identifying when it’s necessary to keep a youth on probation and when to send them to Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility on Oahu. The $199,320 annual cost of housing a juvenile at HCYF is one reason the state wants to reduce incarceration without placing public safety at risk.

“Seventy-five percent wind up re-offending within three years at this stage, said Barbara Pierce Parker, a managing associate with the Crime and Justice Institute in Boston, who provided a presentation on system assessments and probation officer surveys and HYCF data. The report blamed lack of appropriate resources in part.

“The top needs of the juvenile probation population include family dysfunction, drug abuse, mental health and education,” Pierce Parker added.

Kauai District Family Court Judge Edmund Acoba, expressed concern that youth continue to be sent off-island for in-patient care for substance abuse. He said there are services on island but that the process of determining what to do with them is lacking.

The process should be that youth are tracked  for their progress and outcomes, just the way probation works for adults, he said.

“Adults have a process,” Acoba said.

LaVerne Bishop, executive director of Hale Opio Kauai, a nonprofit youth services organization that operates the Teen Court program, said that the lack of a youth detention space on Kauai has actually strengthened prevention programs, and recommended that the county continue to send the occasional hard case off-island as opposed to building a facility here.

Bishop fears that the system would over-use an on-island facility,  rather than focus on intermediate programs for troubled youth.

“We are fortunate not to have a detention home,” Bishop said.

Attorney Russell Goo said the two essential concerns are with addressing the immediate needs of kids that are totally out of control, and then the long-term needs of making sure the youngest children don’t wind up like that. He said right now all of the stakeholders do a good job of catching the kids who fall between the cracks.

“We bridge the gaps when we all know each other,” Goo said. “We have been meeting for years on how we can make that happen.”

Madeleine Marie Hiraga-Nuccio, a social worker with the Department of Health, said Kauai needs a more responsive youth probation assessment with intermediate sanctions and mental health services in place to be an effective option to detention.

Foster care must also be considered to keep youth out of detention, but the youth also needs to be out of a toxic family environment, she added.

“That is where Kauai is at a disadvantage,” she said.

Kauai Public Schools Superintendent Bill Arakaki said that school counselors carried the burden alone for years but that now students in crisis have a full array of mental health and prevention resources available. He said agencies should share information where it would help families address core problems and keep younger kids from following the same cycle of behavior as troubled parents and siblings.

The HYCF reports that 61 percent of youth were committed for a misdemeanor offense. Most of them struggle with substance abuse, mental health and family issues.

County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar said the criminal justice community agrees that the cost of locking up juveniles, both financial and societal, are too high to make HYCF an effective tool in most cases.

“While there will always be some individuals that need to be isolated from the community, for most others there are far more effective alternatives,” Kollar said.

The county does a good job of identifying kids that with help will be at lower-risk of becoming a repeat offender. It is preferable to provide therapy, services and monitoring than confinement, he added.

Joseph Savino, director of Kauai Drug Court, said one way to keep kids on island and succeed in rehabilitation is electronic monitoring. He also said an in-patient treatment facility on island is needed.

The number of juvenile probation’s for misdemeanors was up 55 percent in 2013, the report said. The average probation has increased from 8.1 to 20.6 months over the past decade.

“Kauai’s length of stay on probation has risen to an average of just over 15 months,” Pierce Parker said.

State Deputy Public Defender Christopher Donahoe said juvenile probation is not punitive in design and is a way to track compliance and to be sure they are following through and getting the services they need.

Drawing the distinction between a probation and detention is a case-by-case basis.

The research findings and policy recommendations will be published in December.

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