Linda Tucci Teodosio
There has been a good deal of attention given recently to incidents involving a local man who has visited Summit County courthouses, detention centers and schools with very young children in handcuffs while indicating that he was part of a Scared Straight program (“Officials: Armed man took kids to jail,” Beacon Journal, April 26). While his efforts might be well-intentioned, they are not well-informed. Scared Straight is not a method embraced by juvenile courts. It is not a philosophy of the Summit County Juvenile Court, and the reason is simple: It doesn’t work.
According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Scared Straight fails to address the basic elements that cause a child to act out in the first place. The office even goes so far as to say that the effects of Scared Straight are actually more detrimental to a child than if nothing at all was done.
Shackling children has its own inherent risks, so much so that the practice has been all but banned in Ohio juvenile courtrooms by order of the Ohio Supreme Court. The Supreme Court adopted Rule 5.01 which restricts the shackling of youth in the custody of juvenile detention facilities while in a courtroom and allows it to occur only if a local jurisdiction feels there is significant safety risk or risk of flight.
The American Bar Association noted in an executive summary written in 2015 that shackling should be discontinued.
I am aware that many individuals believe that locking children up or threatening to do so is an effective means to gain compliance with the law and rules in a child’s home or school. If this were an effective measure, we would have eliminated all juvenile crime by now.
The fact that incarceration or the threat thereof does not work could not be more evident. While incarceration is certainly necessary in instances involving serious offenses to assure public safety, we have to be smarter in dealing with delinquent and unruly behavior when public safety is not at risk.
The juvenile court has made it a priority to practice within the guidelines offered by the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The work in Ohio is under the guidance and leadership of the state Department of Youth Services. JDAI seeks to reduce out-of-home placements for both pre- and post-adjudicated youth.
Research has indicated that exposure to a detention center does not solve the problem. In fact, it magnifies the potential that the youth will re-offend.
By offering services to the youth and families to examine the cause of the youth’s behavior, we can do a better job preventing recidivism. Since JDAI was implemented at the court in 2010, admissions to secure detention facilities have been reduced by 39 percent. The fact that delinquency filings at the court are down 25 percent during the same time period demonstrates a decrease in delinquent activity in the county and that this change has been made without a negative effect on public safety.
This is not to say that the court has turned a blind eye to the issues that face parents and guardians on a daily basis regarding the unruly behavior of a child. They need help, and the court realizes that they feel a sense of urgency. Help is available.
In 2006, the court established the Family Resource Center. An individual need not have a pending case to access a referral from the center for one of the many services available for children and families in our county. The case managers at the center are able to assist families in identifying the cause of the unruly behavior and identify a service that will meet their needs.
There is also a program initiated by a community-based group called the Peace, Justice & Equality Committee. The committee is devoted to promoting peaceful means to resolve disputes by moderating Peace Circles. The meetings encourage collaboration and communication between parties, listening to both sides of the issue and, in the end, hopefully foster understanding.
Peace Circles have been held in the community and in some Akron Public Schools, and the concept is gaining more traction because of its effectiveness. More can be learned about the committee and the Peace Circles by contacting program representatives at email@example.com.
Conflict resolution and behavior modification are a science. It is serious business, and, done properly, it can have a longstanding, positive effect. That is the goal of this court and its community partners for every child that comes in contact with the juvenile justice system. Scared Straight is not part of the equation as far as this court is concerned.
Teodosio is the Summit County Juvenile Court judge.