WOOSTER — Wayne County continues to push forward on its Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, an effort to decrease its use of detention for troubled youth.

The Wayne County Juvenile Court hosted a kickoff event on Wednesday at Fisher Auditorium on the campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. In February 2018, the Wayne County Juvenile Court was selected as a JDAI site. The initiative is overseen by the Ohio Department of Youth Services. Wayne County is one of 14 counties in Ohio and one of almost 300 active JDAI sites in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

Dr. Edward J. Latessa, of the University of Cincinnati’s School of Criminal Justice, presented a keynote of “What Works and What Doesn’t in Reducing Recidivism with Youth.” His presentation focused on evidence-based practices and what are the best approaches for low-risk (non-violent offenders), moderate risk and high-risk offenders (those who present a public safety concern).

“He really captured a large scope, especially since the people in the room were from every entity that goes around the juvenile court and juvenile rehabilitation,” Wayne County Commissioner Becky Foster said.

Barberton Police Chief Vince Morber also spoke about the use of JDAI in Summit County and the effects it has on law enforcement. Summit was one of the first five counties to implement JDAI, along with Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas and Montgomery.

“Chief Morber hopefully gave law enforcement someone they can relate to who has been through this process,” said Misty Hanson, chief probation officer of the Wayne County Juvenile Court, who also presented. “Law enforcement wants to hear from other law enforcement officers who can let them know how this is going to affect them and what to expect.”

So far, the Wayne County Juvenile Court has started screening cases before they come to court to ensure diversion is used as often as possible when appropriate. It already has resulted in an increase in youth diverted from formal processing.

Probation has started using alternative sanctions for most non-criminal technical violations. This has resulted in a 53% decrease in youth put in detention for technical violations after one year of becoming a JDAI site. The department also has updated its electronic monitoring units, allowing for more youth to be released from detention while their charges are pending.

Hanson is working with a 19-member steering committee on the implementation of a detention risk that will determine if a youth is able to be admitted to the detention center. This determination will be based on a point system.

“The goal is to make sure detention is used appropriately and youth who do not need to be there aren’t admitted,” Hanson said.

Rittman Police Chief Ray Arcuri is familiar with the point system assessment for detention placement, having used it while working in Cuyahoga County for 25 years. He also agrees with the proposed screening and assessment process before placing a youth in detention.

“The new process will certainly change how we handle juvenile offenders,” Arcuri said.

The steering committee consists of representatives from the Wayne County Juvenile Court, Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, the Wooster Police Department, Wooster City Schools, Wayne County Children Services, Mental Health and Recovery Board of Wayne and Holmes Counties, the Multi-County Juvenile Attention System (MCJAS), the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, the Wayne County Public Defender’s Office, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, The Counseling Center, The Village Network and the Wayne County Commissioners.

The committee also is looking at opening an assessment center where troubled youth can be taken and a determination can be made whether they can be diverted or taken to the Linda Martin Attention Center, one of four detention facilities operated by MCJAS.

“This is the right time for JDAI,” said Judy Wortham-Wood, executive director of the Mental Health and Recovery Board. “We appreciate that Judge Latecia E. Wiles and Chief PO Misty Hanson have been such excellent partners in leading our community toward improved outcomes for our youth and families.”

In 2017, the MCJAS had 262 admissions of 129 youth.

The average age was around 16 years old and youth ranged in age from 9.45 years old to 20.05 years old. The average length of stay was 13.5 days. More than 50 percent were detained on misdemeanor charges and the top two reasons for detention were probation violations and being unruly (i.e., runaways).

Wayne County Commissioner Ron Amstutz was impressed with the presentations and could see how some of the information presented could help inform their decisions about the use of the Wayne County Jail.

“I felt like not only was this good for the youth but a lot of those principles are going to play regardless of age,” Amstutz said.

 

Reporter Emily Morgan can be reached at 330-287-1632 or emorgan@the-daily-record.com.