Kansas Lawmakers Endorse Plan To Reduce Juvenile Crime

By John Celock

A Kansas legislative committee has endorsed a plan that could lead to cost savings and a reduction in juvenile crime.

The state House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee this week passed a plan to expand the state Department of Corrections’ Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative from Wyandotte County to other areas of the state. The JDAI plan has worked to reduce the amount of juvenile offenders placed into group homes and detention facilities, in favor of at-home placement and treatment programs. Advocates say it can reduce juvenile recidivism and achieve a cost savings for the state.

“We’ve seen them work and we want to take that savings and reinvest that,” House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) told The Celock Report. “Let’s put it into the programs that work and then have it create more savings.”

Under the plan developed by the committee $500,000 will be taken out of the state general fund in savings from the existing program and placed into the expansion of programs outside of Wyandotte County. The Wyandotte County program was created by the Department of Corrections in conjunction with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which has been promoting the program nationally. The Annie E. Casey Foundation accepted Kansas into the JDAI program in 2011.

According to a report released by the Department of Corrections in January, since JDAI was implemented the daily population at the Wyandotte County Juvenile Detention Center dropped from 41 to 32 by the end of 2014. The report also indicated that the facility had seen a drop in fights and other altercations since JDAI was implemented.

JDAI calls for juvenile offenders to be placed in community programs when possible, reserving spots in detention centers for more violent offenders. Under the program, the Wyandotte County Juvenile Detention Center has also been redesigned to create a more “home like” environment and having staff members work in a cooperative atmosphere with offenders. The facility also took away the isolation option, which the department said has helped juveniles in the facility.

“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,” Corrections Department JDAI coordinator Leah Haake said in the DOC report.

A study released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported a drop in juvenile detention populations in the communities that have adopted the program. In addition the foundation reported a drop in juvenile crime rates. In addition the Casey Foundation has seen a cost savings for participating jurisdictions.

Claeys and House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Vice Chairman Russ Jennings (R-Lakin) said a drop in crime and cost savings were at the forefront of the committee’s thought process in developing the reinvestment plan. Jennings noted that juvenile detention centers and group homes can create more problems.

“Congregate livings for adolescents in the kinds of behaviors they have are not home like,” Jennings told The Celock Report. “You have the offenders and put them in one place you have the possibility of a contagion effect. It is more likely of creating more problems.”

Jennings noted that under the DOC programs reviewed by the committee, more family based and systematic therapy are used to help address the initial reason why the juvenile was involved in criminal activity. The programs work to provide offenders with improved life circumstances and options early on in order to reduce recidivism. In addition, Jennings noted the programs work with the entire family to teach parenting skills and help reduce the chances of the juvenile from becoming a repeat offender through a holistic family approach.

“Long term these evidence based programs have demonstrated sign reductions in recidivism,” Jennings said.

Claeys is slated to present the Corrections Department budget and the JDAI reinvestment plan to the House Appropriations Committee next week. The appropriations panel would have to adopt the plan in the next step of the state budget process.

Corrections Department spokesman Jeremy Barclay told The Celock Report that the JDAI has been working and helping reduce juvenile offenses. He indicated that the agency is following the legislative budget process and recommendations made in the department’s budget.

Barclay said that the department is in support of Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) initial budget program, which did not include the reinvestment program to grow JDAI. He said the agency would support whatever budget Brownback signs at the end of the legislative process.

The program in Wyandotte County has been working and making great strides to the juveniles,” Barclay said.

Claeys said that if the reinvestment plan is adopted in the final budget he and his committee plan to monitor the growth of the program to the rest of the state. Among the areas Claeys said the committee plans to monitor is will the plan further reduce juvenile offender placements out of the home, the impact on the state’s juvenile crime rate and cost savings achieved by the Department of Corrections.

“We will be monitoring what the Department of Corrections is achieving from the program once expanded to see if it is giving a return on investment,” Claeys said.

Jennings said the program can have a longer-term savings for the Department of Corrections beyond the juvenile population. He noted that the program can reduce the risk that a juvenile offender could turn into a career criminal and the likelihood of ending up in the state’s prison system later in life.

“The kids that have the benefit of these programs have the ability not to penetrate into the system,” he said.

Jennings said he had high hopes that the reinvestment plan designed by the public safety budget panel would have many benefits long term.

“It is the perfect storm. You are not only saving money but you are having a great outcome,” Jennings said. “That is what many of us hope to achieve in government operations.”