Juvenile justice officials allege unethical, illegal behavior
The juvenile justice system
The juvenile justice system is different than the adult system.
When juveniles are arrested, police can release them if the crime isn't serious. Police then make a referral to the juvenile probation supervisor in Beloit or Janesville.
The probation supervisor can dismiss the case, request the child meet with a probation officer or refer the case to the Rock County District Attorney's Office for prosecution.
If police arrest a juvenile for a serious offense, police call a juvenile probation officer and request the child be held in the juvenile detention center. The probation officer then decides whether to detain or release the child.
If detained, the child gets a detention hearing in Rock County Court the next business day. The judge determines whether to release or detain the child or hold the child under home detention.
The district attorney's office decides whether petitions—similar to criminal complaints in an adult case—are filed against juveniles.
If juveniles are found delinquent—similar to being convicted of a crime in adult court—and are placed on probation, they can be penalized for violating probation. Penalties—often called sanctions—can include time locked in the juvenile detention center.
JANESVILLE Rock County juvenile probation officers claim their supervisors are asking them to act unethically and lie in court to get kids released from detention, according to county documents obtained by the Gazette.
Juvenile probation officers are pressured to release kids from detention or other placements because of budget problems, and they fear it endangers the public, according to January memos written by Linda Graf, the probation officers union representative.
The juvenile justice division manager investigated Graf's allegations and determined they were unfounded, Human Services Director Charmian Klyve wrote in an Aug. 25 memo to the Rock County Human Services Board.
Klyve wrote the memo six days after the Gazette filed a request under the Wisconsin Open Records Law to obtain memos, e-mails and other documents juvenile justice staff shared with County Administrator Craig Knutson during a Friday, Aug. 14, meeting.
Juvenile justice staff said they requested the meeting with Knutson because there was no response to their concerns within their own department.
The meeting was held after the juvenile detention center became the center of controversy because human services included the possibility of closing or partially closing the facility to save money.
Officials say orders were issued to juvenile probation officers, telling them to deny the lockup of high-risk juveniles to make the argument for closing the facility. Human services managers have denied the allegations.
Juvenile justice problems
Memos and e-mails exchanged between March 2008 and January 2009 show how angry juvenile probation officers are with their supervisors.
The documents show a juvenile justice division that lacks communication, clear job expectations and employee morale.
Graf wrote two memos to Kerrie Kaner, juvenile justice division manger, including one Jan. 6 and another Jan. 9, alleging unethical behavior and orders to lie in court.
Graf, who was disciplined for insubordination after writing the memos, said management never spoke to her or other probation officers after she reported the allegations.
"I'm not sure what sort of investigation could have happened," Graf said.
'Keep detention numbers down'
According to the memos:
Probation officers were being directed to make decisions contrary to their professional opinions.
They were having their decisions overturned when deciding to detain or sanction children who violate probation or get arrested.
"Our decisions have been overridden based on cost, need to keep detention numbers down, how the diversion program numbers look and the infamous 'detention doesn't work,'" Graf wrote.
"We are now being told to make decisions that make the diversion program look good, not which best serve our clients and/or the community."
Supervisors encouraged staff to get kids out of placement as soon as possible because the office was over budget.
Probation officers also have been told to withhold information in court in order to get a child released from detention.
"Being asked, or told, to make recommendations to the court that are contrary to one's professional opinion, or to withhold information in order to obtain a child's release from custody, result in staff belief that they are being told to act dishonestly and/or unethically," Graf wrote.
Threat of discipline
In one case, a juvenile probation officer testified in court and provided the judge with facts surrounding the case. The probation officer did not make a recommendation to the judge about whether the juvenile should be detained or released.
The judge decided to detain the child.
When the probation officer returned to the office, her supervisor "screamed" at her for not recommending the judge release the juvenile. The supervisor then threatened the probation officer with discipline, according to memos.
"The threat to impose discipline for holding a juvenile in custody or providing information to the court extended to other staff," Graf wrote.
Probation officers also are being told not to sanction kids in the diversion program because it would make diversion's numbers look bad. Kids are sanctioned—locked in the detention center, for example—when they violate probation.
"This will not allow for a legitimate evaluation of the effectiveness of the programming," Graf wrote. "If the numbers are manipulated by the inability of workers to hold their client's accountable, an unbiased and accurate evaluation will not be possible."
Graf wrote an Oct. 15, 2008, e-mail to Kaner and others that she was frustrated with her sanction requests getting overturned.
In one case, a child with multiple violations failed to show up for community service and got kicked out. The child was referred to the diversion program and didn't show up. The child didn't go to school or treatment, and he got arrested again.
But the probation supervisor wouldn't put the boy in detention, Graf wrote in the e-mail.
"If we are not going to be allowed to enforce the rules of supervision or hold kids accountable (which I believe is our job) then you might as well say so and we will stop trying," Graf wrote.
More than seven months after the memos were written, human services managers acknowledged a "great deal of discontent within the juvenile justice division, particularly in the Janesville office," Klyve wrote in her Aug. 25 memo.
The juvenile justice division has taken steps to improve communication within its division and with law enforcement, schools and the district attorney's office, Klyve wrote.
"We have work to do, both internally and with our system partners," she wrote. "We are committed to improving those relationships."
Three committees have been created within the juvenile justice division to draft policies related to intake or sanction decisions and diversion programs, according to the memo.
The department also is seeking an external and independent evaluation to examine the juvenile justice system and its future, according to the memo.
"The intent of all these actions is to move forward with a clear vision of our future in juvenile justice, consistent with best practices in the field and the shared values of our community," Klyve wrote.