OGDEN, Utah — In 2017, Utah passed legislation for juvenile justice reform. Now, the Department of Human Services has released new data showing how successful the effort has been.
According to the data, the state has seen a 46-percent reduction of low-risk youth ending up in locked detention centers. More than $9 million have been reinvested into front-end services to assist youth.
Brett Peterson, the director of Utah's Division of Juvenile Justice Services, says the amount of change in such a short amount of time is motivating.
“Now you have this huge group of youth and kids who might have traditionally come through that old locked doorway and now we are doing it a different way,” he said.
Through data-driven based research and individualized, trauma-informed treatment, youths are being able to be helped in a new way, Peterson said. The facilities are multi-use and offer much more than a detention center. Families can come into state-run youth centers and get the help they need, including access to resources.
“The minute you introduce a youth, a child or youth, into that kind of formal justice system, they end up having worse mental health outcomes, educational outcomes, and most importantly, I think it is really, really significant is some of those public safety outcomes actually diminish,” he said.
The new approach of helping kids at the front-end is making a big difference, counselor David Gooda said.
“We are trying to work with them, keep them moving and showing them that there is more to life than their past, what got them here,” he said.
For the past 10 years, Gooda has worked with youth in trouble. He enjoys the youth services model and having a chance to work with youth and families longer.
“Instead of putting a Band-Aid on it, we are now able to fix it a lot better,” he said.
There is still more work to be done, Peterson and Gooda agree. Focusing on the front-end, offering services without a youth having to see a judge and working on resources in homes, schools and communities, the justice reform can make a large impact, Peterson said.
“We tried to limit how low-level offenses could come into custody or come into that formal system, but at the same time reinvesting and pivoting and providing resources and services kind of to the front end,” Peterson said.
There are many more success stories that have been yet to be told with these new practices, Gooda said.
“Hopefully, you’d like to see every kid move on and go to college,” he said.
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