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Juvenile Justice Reforms Working in Wyandotte County

by Cheryl Cadue last modified Jan 03, 2017 12:04 PM
New strategies are putting fewer juvenile offenders in detention in Wyandotte County but also helping those youth who are behind bars.
Juvenile Justice Reforms Working in Wyandotte County

(Above and at bottom left) Updates to the interior of the Wyandotte County Juvenile Detention Center reflect juvenile justice reforms occurring in Wyandotte County.


Three years ago, an increasing juvenile offender population and a growing concern over detention center safety prompted Wyandotte County to become part of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), a national model that emphasizes redirecting juvenile offenders into community-based programs rather than incarceration.

However, for those youth who must be detained as a matter of public safety, JDAI also focuses on improving the conditions of confinement to reduce the long-term adverse effects of incarceration, said Leah Haake, the Kansas Department of Corrections’ JDAI state coordinator.

“Given the positive changes and results occurring through JDAI implementation, Wyandotte County Juvenile Detention Center has the potential to emerge as a model for other Kansas detention centers,” Haake said.

Since 2011, the Wyandotte County Juvenile Detention Center has dropped its average daily population from 41 to 32 at the close of 2014. Incidents involving fights and other infractions within the detention center also have dropped in half.

“Research shows that detention has a negative impact on young people’s mental and physical well-being, their education and employment, as well as increasing their likelihood to reoffend and have further justice system involvement,” Haake said.

Based on the number of youth incarcerated nationally, these kinds of long-term impacts cost taxpayers between $8 billion and $21 billion annually, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute, which recently released the report “Sticker Shock: Calculating the Full Price Tag for Youth Incarceration.”

Established by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, JDAI utilizes proven strategies that reduce the unnecessary and inappropriate use of detention, reduce costs, increase system fairness and improve the juvenile justice system without compromising public safety. In 2011, the foundation accepted the State of Kansas as a JDAI site with five participating counties: Wyandotte, Johnson, Sedgwick, Douglas and Shawnee.

For Wyandotte County, second only to Sedgwick County in number of youth in out-of-home placements and in correctional facilities, the first steps in implementing the JDAI model were some of the most visible, said Terri Broadus, administrator for the Wyandotte County Juvenile Detention Center.

To create more of a home-type setting in the detention center, murals and artwork were hung throughout the facility and furniture was changed from stainless steel construction in favor of softer materials. The detention center also changed the color of its juvenile uniforms from blue to yellow to give the uniforms a less institutional appearance.

Less visible but more significant changes occurred in the attitudes and morale of staff and residents, Broadus said.

“Staff mindsets on disciplinary issues, sanctions, isolations and incentives for residents were a huge challenge,” said Broadus describing the initial reaction to JDAI. “Staff initially felt that the residents were going to receive all of the rights and that staff had to accept what was left. “

Staff soon saw that the changes were improving the safety and security of the detention center for residents and staff, Broadus said. The detention center restructured its resident behavior management system to enable staff to focus on communicating and preventing negative behaviors rather than just reacting to negative behaviors. The detention center also added programs and afterschool activities that encourage staff to participate with the residents.

 “By allowing staff to participate, we are seeing that it encourages staff and juveniles to work together,” Broadus said. “This creates a support system and opportunity for mentorship for the resident. “

In assessing staff morale changes, Broadus noted that the center has lower turnover which had been largely occurring due to staff burnout. In 2011, the detention center had a staff turnover of 11 compared to six in 2014. The new system not only lessens staff frustrations but also gives staff alternatives to placing juveniles in isolation, she said.

Under the former system, newly admitted juvenile offenders reviewed a list of consequences which included isolation time of up to 48 hours for committing infractions.

“With JDAI, we took the isolation option away and encouraged all to participate,” Broadus said.

The juvenile center’s programming changes have included increasing cognitive behavioral services and improving delivery of mental health services. The result has been less tension in the facility, said Cheri Jaynes, the center’s mental health coordinator.

“The juveniles are involved in increased programming and outlets to help them cope with the daily stressors of being in the facility,” she said. “The juveniles find the activities enjoyable at times and it helps foster more positive behavior.”

As JDAI strategies are implemented throughout the juvenile judicial system in Wyandotte County, the detention center also is experiencing cost avoidance benefits generated by a lower detention population. Housing one juvenile in the detention center costs $120 per day. With a lower daily population, the detention center is not only experiencing less in housing costs but also in overtime pay that was needed to ensure the detention center was making state-mandated resident to staff ratios, Broadus said.

“Repeat offenders are spending less time in detention,” she said. “This is a direct credit to a collaborative effort by the judge, pretrial services and the probation departments who have demonstrated commitment and engagement to the initiative. Our judge and probation departments are more conscious of the effects of detention when making decisions.”

Broadus said the success of the JDAI process has garnered the attention of other community stakeholders who have become engaged in the changes that are occurring within the detention center.

“We are excited to see the shift in the juvenile judicial system,” she said. “This initiative has encouraged teamwork in our county.”

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