BECKLEY - So how do we keep kids out of jail, but also out of trouble? In the second part of our series 'Incarcerating Our Future' we have talked to officials about what can be done to give these juvenile offenders a bright future.
The Division of Juvenile Services Director said her agency is partnering with a nonprofit and local government to find a better way to deal with juvenile offenders. The goal is to get them the help they need, so they can become active members of society as adults. This nonprofit, Pew Charitable Trust, has decided to partner with agencies in WV government as they work to solve this growing problem.
Stephanie Bond, with the Division of Juvenile Services, said, "Ultimately what we want to do as a whole, as a state, is to prevent our kids that we have now and in the future, from ever advancing into the adult correctional system. We want to try and deal with their needs through various treatment opportunities, educational opportunities and get them on the right path so that these kids can go back out into society and lead productive, law abiding lives."
Chief Juvenile Probation Officer in Raleigh County, Tim Erwin, said, "there needs to be more programs in the state, more bed availability for residential treatment for juvenile offenders to cut down on the waiting lists and the amount of time that kids are spending in detention centers."
Judges like to place juveniles in treatment programs instead of warehousing them in detention centers. "Programs that we send kids to, they specialize in substance abuse, anger management, behavior programs. Whereas in detention they're seeing a counselor maybe one, twice a month and it's more like they're being warehoused instead of getting the hands on treatment that they need," said Erwin.
A Raleigh County Circuit Judge said this is why he sentences juveniles to treatment; "That's the whole idea behind juvenile services. Treatment, identifying the problem the child had, dealing with the problem or helping that child deal with the problem so that you don't have adult offenders. It's treatment, treatment, treatment. That's the goal in juvenile services," said Judge John Hutchinson.
The Division of Juvenile Services said making these changes will only work if the community supports them.
"Communities are the key and I think that will be one of the things that come out of the study with pew is we need to focus on more community based treatments ad opportunities for these kids so they're never taken out of the home," said Bond. "There's going to be a lot of positive change to come out of this and in the end it can only help the kids in the state."