Carson City Juvenile Services not just about detention
(Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part series on Carson City Juvenile Probation Services. The second part will appear in Friday’s Appeal).
Carson City Juvenile Probation Services is more than about just detaining delinquent kids. It works with them through programs and intervention to improve their decision making and choices.
There are two divisions to Juvenile Probation, the detention center and the probation department. Juveniles can be brought into the probation department via arrest or referral by a law enforcement agency where they will go through an assessment to determine level of risk, severity of the crime, and juvenile’s history. From there, the officers will work with the District Attorney’s office to determine how to handle the case: they can dismiss the charges, grant diversion/intervention or file formal charges where the juvenile will appear in juvenile court.
“Just because they are arrested, isn’t a fast track to formal charges being filed and a court hearing taking place,” said Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Ben Bianchi. “Many of the youth that are arrested, still go through diversion whether it’s a sole sanction diversion, meaning community service or letter of apology, all the way to diversion that includes supervision with a probation officer.”
If juveniles are brought into custody when they are arrested, Juvenile Probation has a set of criteria for the detention center, using a points scale to determine whether to keep juveniles in custody or release them to their parents, including: severity of charge, history from the youth’s past 12 months, if the juvenile is on formal probation, if the incident is gang related, and if weapons are involved. If juveniles can be released from detention, the probation department can put them on a variety of conditional release rules ranging from home detention with an electronic monitor to drug and alcohol testing or follow-up assessments.
If the charge is so severe those assessments come back to the level of acuteness, where the youth need correctional care or mental health services, Juvenile Probation will get a petition filed to schedule a court hearing, and if found guilty or adjudicated on the offense, the next hearing is a disposition hearing. There, the juvenile department will conduct a family history interview and collect all the data from the assessments. The department then goes to court with the recommendation on whether the juvenile needs to be in a residential treatment program or not.
A juvenile can be placed on either formal or informal probation, which differ in the level of authority the officers have. With formal probation, if juveniles violate probation, the probation officer has the legal authority to place them under arrest and book them into the juvenile detention center. With informal probation, if juveniles offend, unless it’s in violation of a law, they aren’t subject to arrest.
Though each case is unique, Chief Bianchi said with most of the juveniles seen, unless the charge is extremely severe, the department tries to put them in a diversion or intervention program to help the youth realize their mistakes and hopefully correct the behavior or decisions that put them into the juvenile system. Unless the youth are a risk to themselves or the community, the offense is severe to warrant detention, or they have a history of not complying with supervision, the youth can be later seen in court on formal charges though Bianchi said the department tries to avoid that route if possible.
“The philosophy of this department is to really invest ourselves in these youth and families who are identified to be high risk and develop those relationships, give them the support and interventions to get compliance,” Bianchi said. “But the long term goal of the department is to get those youth and families to recognize the negative impact their choices are having on their lives and get them to start making the necessary changes. Not because the law is hanging over their heads, but because self-change and making those changes is going to benefit them. So we want them to see and feel it as opposed to us forcing it.”
The purpose of Juvenile Services is to get the youth on a positive track to help them make better decisions later in life, Bianchi said.
“We develop a treatment plan to address whatever those risk factors are, whether it is some parenting classes for the parents, drug and alcohol counseling for the youth, or some extracurricular activities to get them to start making better decisions for life,” Bianchi said.
In order to help the youth best, the Juvenile Probation Office also works with the parents to make sure once juveniles return home, they are in an environment that’s conducive to success.
In order to achieve this, the juvenile probation department offers a host of classes and programs for both juveniles and their parents.
“And we see it with juveniles going into probation or services, they expect the scope to be completely on the son or daughter and within a short time you realize the family is a huge contributor to the dysfunction we are dealing with,” Bianchi said. “There are times we are the counselors and mentors to the parent too and we have to have that tact and ability to engage with these parents because there are a lot of damaged families. We can’t expect them to go from here to here overnight. We have to work with them and invest time with them.”
The juvenile department offers up to 13 hours of counseling on a weekly basis — classes from family, substance abuse and mental health counseling to a entrepreneur class to try to create that early intervention piece to fix issues now in hopes the youth and family can change and stay out of the system.
“We put all these programs in place as an early intervention tool with the goal of the youth not ending up in corrections or detention later on,” Deputy Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Ali Banister said. “And that is the ultimate goal if we can reach them on the front end, put them in these programs early on, then we won’t see them on later down the road.
“We are trying to teach these youth to make better choices because the decisions based on the choices they make can affect them for the rest of their lives. These programs teach valuable skills and tools that will positively assist them and the decision they are making.
One program that’s provided is the Forward Thinking Interactive Journaling Series, a cognitive behavior evidence based program, where the juvenile probation officers assist youth and families in changing their thoughts, feelings and behaviors through Journaling.
It’s a collaborative class, taught by Juvenile Probation Officers Matt Clapham and Mike Rapasora, for the youth to have a discussion about their choices in life that got them to that point. “I participate with them, because I don’t have all the answers,” Clapham said. “My job is to facilitate so that we can learn together.”
It’s a seven week class that meets every Tuesday and Friday and includes lessons and homework for the youth to hold them accountable. Journals cover things such as substance abuse, responsible behavior and family communication.
The department offers one for just youths and one for both the youth and their families to attend together.
Clapham said it’s vital to have a collaborative atmosphere, because he doesn’t want to tell families what they should do, but rather have discussions on how to improve life within their homes.
“We are all parents and we can all learn from each other with different situations,” Clapham said. “This can help build the relationship with the child about communication and provide practice for that.”