Juvenile justice reform brought law enforcement and community organizers together last week in Charleston. The discussion focused on a diversion program for juvenile offenders in Florida that could be an example for communities in West Virginia.
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia hosted the talk. Dewey Caruthers spoke about a program he facilitated in Florida that issues civil citations -- instead of arrests.
“The mission is to use juvenile civil citations to increase public safety, improve youth outcomes and save taxpayer money.”
Caruthers says the civil citation programs can reduce the number of children who go on to commit another crime. They see if people need treatment for addiction or other mental-health issues, and help them build life skills, and undergo community service, instead of just being locked away.
Stephanie Bond is director of the West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services, and she attended the discussion. She said it’s important that more people who commit crimes actually develop a trust for the justice system -- and not feel betrayed.
“If they feel that they were treated fairly by the police, the court system, you’ll see rates go down. If they feel that they were being mistreated or treated unfairly, there’s a greater chance for them to re-offend,” said Bond.
The National Institute of Corrections released a study in 2008 that supports that theory- that the perception offenders have of how they were treated by the justice system can affect recidivism rates.
Bond said she thinks the idea of civil citation programs is an interesting concept, and she thinks West Virginians could benefit from any program that helps reduce the number of children who are pulled away from their homes.