Pulaski County is in danger of losing support from a juvenile-justice expert if it doesn't take substantive steps toward changes in the next couple of months, an official told Quorum Court members Tuesday.
The county became a Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative site in 2017. The program was founded in the early 1990s by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a national group that advocates for the well-being of children.
"If the County and juvenile justice stakeholders do not make progress on the tasks yet to be accomplished in the next few months, they are unlikely to continue receiving intensive technical assistance and support ... for improvements to the juvenile justice system," read a quote from center experts.
Chastity Scifres, the chief deputy county attorney, read the quote to the agenda committee for the Quorum Court. She is also the county's initiative coordinator.
In 2017, the county began getting assistance from the Center for Children's Law and Policy as a part of the initiative. The Washington, D.C., group advocates for at-risk kids.
Scifres said the center helps provide assessments of the system, technical support for presentations and connects county officials to other cities working toward similar goals.
Goals of the program include: eliminating unnecessary jailings, minimizing failure-to-appear and delinquent-behavior charges, redirecting funding to overhaul strategies, improving conditions in youth lockups, reducing racial and ethnic disparities, promoting collaboration among stakeholders, collecting and using data, and speeding up the flow of cases through the system.
Regions in 39 states use the program.
Scifres started collecting data on youth intake, incarceration and probation in the county in 2018. She's found that the Little Rock Police Department arrests the most children in the county, that black boys are the most frequently arrested and that most arrests of kids occur at schools, among other things.
"We basically started with no data in Pulaski County," she said.
Quorum Court members discussed areas that need improvement, based on the data.
"I'll be honest," said Barry Jefferson. "I'm seeing things that are falling through the cracks. And when something is falling through the cracks, we need to find a way to seal those cracks up."
Quorum Court member Judy Green said she was concerned about the number of black children arrested from June to December of 2018 -- 628 compared with 148 white children.
"When the white youths get in trouble, I think the officers take them home to their parents, and when the black children get in trouble, they take them to jail," Green said.
Jefferson questioned how schools could help kids who get into trouble.
"We are at this point where we are sending kids to juvenile centers for schoolyard fights -- things that can be handled at the school level," Jefferson said.
Scifres said that through the program, Pulaski County has made several improvements, including starting a mediation program for some cases at McClellan High School, starting a book club and cooking class for children on probation, and writing a statement of purpose for detention.
But, she added, participation in some programs is low or nonexistent. The county has other needs, including shelter beds for kids who are involved in domestic disputes, policies to allow more children to be released under certain conditions and reduce the time it takes to process cases.
She said she's hopeful that the county will be able to keep the program, but other parties, particularly juvenile judges will need to take "active steps."
If the county loses the assistance, although it will still be a part of the initiative, all aspects of the program will be up to local officials alone. Scifres said she's seen this occur at other initiative sites around the country.
"There are other sites that are currently doing very little or quite frankly, nothing," Scifres said.
Metro on 07/10/2019
Print Headline: Pulaski County urged to lift efforts on at-risk kids, warned that program’s aid in peril of being pulled