court

Judge Scott Wolfram presides over a recent Juvenile Therapeutic Court hearing.

One of the newer facilities for the Walla Walla Corrections Department is the Juvenile Justice Center at 455 W. Rose St., and it keeps adding programs, such as the Juvenile Therapeutic Court and the in-the-works Coordination of Services.

Built in 1997, the Juvenile Justic Center only housed three children at first, according to Director of Corrections Norrie Gregoire. The kids were moved from the Umatilla County juvenile facility, where Walla Walla County had a contract to house juveniles.

But they soon were accompanied by their peers. In 1996, the “Becca bill” was passed by the Washington legislature, requiring schools to report students who had more than seven unexcused absences per month or 10 in one academic year. Parents and guardians also could ask the court for help with their unruly children.

Another program, Child in Need of Services, which began in 1995, enabled the Department of Social and Health Services, parents or guardians, and children to petition for placement in a home other than with the parents or guardians. However, this programs didn’t necessarily mean the offender would be detained.

By the early- to mid-2000s, Gregoire said the juvenile center housed 17 or 18 juveniles on any given day.

“People tended to focus on detention,” Gregoire said. “It’s a tool in the toolbox, but we sure don’t use it like we used to. We’re a lot more focused on relationships.”

How juveniles relate to others also relates to being more law-abiding, he said.

The young inmate population kept growing until around 2014, when the attitudes about detention shifted and society changed, he said.

Starting last year, the center had about nine children per day, which was about a 76% drop in offenders. Then, fewer youth became incarcerated, he said, likely for several reasons: More children became glued to their phones, distracting them from getting into trouble, he said, and sometimes police handled situations while at a scene.

Another reason, he said, could be attributed to focusing more on therapeutic programs rather than just lockup. One included the Juvenile Therapeutic Court, which started in 2016 in Walla Walla.

“A lot of it was that referrals from the police department dropped,” he said. “Some people think it has to do with cellphones and other devices. Some think it’s evidence-based programs and efforts from the state to put them (juveniles) in diversion programs.”

The problem with police handling cases on scene, Gregoire said, was the corrections department was unaware of problems until the juvenile finally did something to warrant being arrested. By then, he said, the corrections department hadn’t had the chance to intervene in the early stages of their illegal behavior, which was preferable and could better eliminate it.

Gregoire and Court Services Manager Jon Cassetto said Juvenile Therapy Courts works similarly to Adult Recovery Court in that it’s an option for those qualified who, after completion, get their charges dropped. Incentives are given for reaching sobriety markers, such as gift cards, and sanctions are given for not complying with rules such as maintaining sobriety.

“We try to meet kids where they’re at,” Cassetto said.

When Juvenile Therapy Court began, Cassetto said, it was somewhat easy because they had experience with Adult Recovery Court and Family Treatment Court.

Treatment Court Coordinator Jeff Gwinn said JTC, like the others, recognizes participants.

“It really focuses on positive reinforcement,” Gwinn said.

Leaders tried different approaches to help people achieve recovery long-term and get their criminal charges dismissed, he said.

“If the person isn’t responding (to a treatment plan), how can we respond to change their behavior?”

Leaders get together on a regular basis, Gwinn said, to ensure they’re on the same page.

The Coordination of Services program, which is still taking shape, is another way Gregoire and Cassetto said they hope to intervene. The program will partner a juvenile offender with either a parent or guardian for 12 hours on a Saturday and Sunday to attend presentations from expert community members on substance abuse and more. The state will foot the bill, Cassetto said.

“The goal is to serve 20 to 30 families annually,” Cassetto said.

Four groups, with 10 to 12 youths, were the target, he added. But details needed to be ironed out before the program could begin, he said.

All the programs had the same goal: juvenile offenders achieving long-term sobriety and becoming law-abiding citizens.

“Coming into the justice system, and coming in repeatedly, overall health is affected,” Gwinn said. “And also taxpayers are affected, having the same thing happen over and over. Treatment is really drilling down to it at its root, looking and trying to identify that underlying problem.”

 

Emily Thornton can be reached at emilythornton@wwub.com or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.

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