COLUMBUS, Ohio - Innovative approaches to juvenile probation in Ohio are highlighted in a new report
that examines ways to effectively modernize probation for young people while keeping the public safe.
The research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation suggests diverting the massive caseloads of nonviolent youths to more focused programs aimed at positive behavior changes rather than punitive measures. Lucas County is cited as an example, with its new Misdemeanor Services Unit.
Demecia Wilson, an administrator with the county's Probation Department and Assessment Center, says youths receive an initial assessment and are referred to appropriate community resources, such as mentoring, youth-development activities or family-treatment programs.
"Everyone in the community has seen the juvenile court, especially probation services, as being very punitive and being very compliance-based," she says. "We're moving away from that to being very strength-based and being supportive in nature."
These reforms have helped Lucas County cut the number of youths placed in residential and correctional facilities nearly in half. Summit County also is highlighted in the report, where law enforcement has referred at least 20 percent of all delinquency cases to police-led diversion programs over the past four years.
Steve Bishop, a senior associate with the Casey Foundation's Juvenile Justice Strategy Group, says replacing negative interactions with positive interventions results in a much greater return on investment in terms of community safety.
"It really has to be a shift in mindset that probation can't fix kids; it should be a lever to mobilize the necessary resources that support young people for the long term," he explains.
According to the report, probation often pulls young people deeper into the system without offering support and guidance. And as a juvenile court administrator in Lucas County, Kendra Kec notes this increases the likelihood of reoffending.
"Just by one day of incarceration, research shows that the child is 33 percent more likely to be involved in adult criminality, and they're more likely to drop out of school, they're more likely to engage in drug abuse or alcohol abuse," she notes.
The report also says diverting nonviolent young people away from traditional probation helps direct more resources to rehabilitate those at a higher risk of re-offending.