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Rock County juvenile justice system making improvements

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Ted Sullivan
May 17, 2010
— Rock County officials are making sweeping changes to improve the juvenile justice division after a report criticized the system.

The division has formed work groups to update policies, standardize detention decisions and improve diversion programs. The groups include staff members.


The division also has worked to improve communication with staff and others in the juvenile justice system.


“There is a lot of work being done,” said Marvin Wopat, Rock County Human Services Board member. “Everything that they’re working on right now — I think it’s excellent.”


The division is headed in the right direction, said Linda Graf, the juvenile probation officers union representative who was an outspoken critic of the division.


“I have seen an effort to improve the services,” Graf said.


The changes are being made in response to an independent report released in December that criticized the division.


Consultants Jim Moeser of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families and Wayne Liddell of Liddell & Associates were hired to evaluate the division after allegations of misconduct.


Their report said the division lacked values, vision and communication. It said the division operated under outdated practices and lacked consistency in detention and sanction decisions.


“I think the report was an excellent report, and I think the county is really taking it seriously,” Wopat said. “I’m very impressed with them going forward and taking action and wanting what’s best for the people and the community.


“They jumped right in and started doing the right things, and that’s the name of the game.”


Outdated practices

The consultants said the division uses outdated practices related to handling juvenile offenders.


Jason Witt, deputy director of human services, acknowledged that the policies were old and not useful.


In response, a work group is writing new policies and procedures.


The policies will include guidelines on items such as case notes, detention decisions and referrals, Witt said. The new policies will be shared with employees and other agencies before they’re adopted.


The division also is moving from a reactive court-monitoring model to a more proactive case-management model with its juvenile cases, Witt said.


For example, the court-monitoring model included explaining the rules of juvenile probation and sanctions if they were broken.


A case-management model includes an assessment, a case plan and other approaches that help juveniles succeed.


A software program also has been implemented to assess juveniles, Witt said.


The program evaluates behavioral issues, family problems, substance abuse and other factors contributing to delinquency, he said.


The juvenile detention center also is moving from a jail model to a treatment model, Witt said.


The changes would include focusing more on building the strengths and skills of juveniles, he said. More programs also would be offered in the detention center.


Detention screening

The consultants said juvenile probation officers don’t use a standard screening tool when deciding who gets held in detention. They said a lack of a screening tool is unfair to juveniles and creates inconsistency.


The division has responded with a new intake and sanctions work group tasked with developing policies for detaining and sanctioning juveniles, Witt said.


Policies will be current with state law and best practices, he said. The screening tool would use a scored system to create consistency.


The screening tool would assess the juvenile’s risk level and nature of the offense, Witt said. It would be a guide with room for flexibility, depending on the offender or crime.


The Office of Justice Assistance will train juvenile probation officers on detention decisions. A supervisor also will review detention decisions daily for consistency.


The new policy should be adopted this summer.


Communication

The consultants said the division lacked communication, morale and ongoing training for staff.


In response, the division has more staff meetings, Witt said. Staff members also are included in work groups tasked with improving the division.


More training has been offered to staff inside and outside the office, he said. And more money than usual is being spent on training next year.


Division managers are meeting more often with judges, attorneys, law enforcement and others involved in the system, Witt said. The meetings allow everyone to discuss issues or changes in the division.


Everyone’s feedback is being valued more, he said. And their thoughts are being considered as the division undergoes change.


“I think there is more communication. I think there is more of an effort to listen to the staff who is actually doing the job,” Graf said.


The changes being made now could take a couple years to complete, but the division is headed in the right direction, Witt said.


“I think we all accepted that the report was a fair reflection,” he said. “We’re moving. The proof will be when things are actually in place.”



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