Ogle County to begin unprecedented outreach for juvenile offenders
Juveniles running into trouble with the law in Ogle County are finding law enforcement and probation officers coming to their assistance. Members of the Ogle County Juvenile Justice Council announced Tuesday that they have signed an agreement that ensures juvenile offenders will undergo a professional assessment at an early stage of their contact with the justice system, which will offer the youth a chance to get needed services as quickly as possible. "The new procedure benefits the entire community, not just those juveniles with behavioral problems," said Ogle County State's Attorney John B. "Ben" Roe. "By identifying issues that contribute to delinquent acts and intervening early, we have a better chance of changing young lives for the better, and at far less cost than if the behaviors don't change, more crimes are committed and the young people are sent away to expensive prisons. It saves young lives and enhances public safety." Information received from the assessment of each juvenile helps determine whether the youth could benefit from a variety of services, including mental health therapy, treatment for drug addictions and family counseling. Because information gained from the assessment is not shared with prosecutors, county probation officials can help counsel juveniles without violating any of their rights, and the juveniles can talk frankly without fear of self-incrimination. "As a juvenile justice system in Ogle County, we are committed to working together for the best interest of the delinquent minor, while ensuring community safety and promoting personal responsibility for one's actions," said Associate Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Kauffmann, who is assigned to the juvenile court. "This is what the statute requires of us and is also the best future crime prevention measure. "Assessing service needs and providing those services at the earliest possible entry point will ensure the best possible outcome for both the minor child and our community," she continued. "These services will assist the minor child in addressing the reasons for their delinquent behavior, while helping them to understand the necessity of taking responsibility for their actions. We are working toward behavior change, so that the delinquent behavior will not be repeated and the victim can be made whole." Ogle County is one of five Models for Change demonstration sites in Illinois. Models for Change is a national initiative funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to accelerate reform of juvenile justice systems across the country. The Ogle County Juvenile Justice Council receives technical assistance and grant funding from Models for Change. The memorandum of understanding was signed by Judge Kauffmann; State's Attorney Roe; Greg Martin, Director of the Ogle County Probation Department; and Donald Miller, Dennis Riley, John Redington and Eric Morrow, who serve as public defenders in Ogle County. (Text of the memorandum of understanding can be viewed at http://www.oglejjc.org/.) "This agreement allows those of us who represent minors the ability to get as much detailed information history and background before they get too deeply involved in the court system," Riley said on behalf of the county's public defenders. "It puts Ogle County in the position of being able to address the needs of families and minors immediately and in a preventative way." Riley said juvenile offenders often are acting out as "a cry for help" and the actions can become more serious if the help is not provided. "The earlier you get to the root cause of the problem and address that problem, you have decreased the likelihood of seeing that minor come back into the system for a future crime," Riley said. "If you can help a dysfunctional family, maybe we won't see other family members -- the younger brothers and sisters -- coming into the system when they grow older." "We always have reviewed and we will continue to review records of each juvenile and talk with them about life histories, but this agreement allows us to use all available resources to learn as much as possible about these youth as quickly as possible," said Martin, the Director of Probation. "Objective screening tools help us learn much more about the youth, including such things as drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and violence in their homes. "Previously, that kind of mental health screening might not occur, and, if it did, it might happen a year or more after the youth first was brought to our attention," Martin said. "Now, we can get the youth and their families the help they need." State's Attorney Roe said the results of the assessment will be kept confidential and will not be shared with his office. "These are children at risk of failing in our community, and that would be a danger to all of us," Roe said. "There are great benefits to being able to reach them soon. We've all agreed that the best interest of these kids is to assess them at the earliest time." Roe emphasized that crime victims will continue to be consulted, and he said juveniles, even those not brought to trial, will be held accountable for their actions and will be expected to make restitution for damage to property where appropriate. Roe said the early assessment could be especially beneficial to the youngest juveniles coming in contact with the system. "The youngest ones, those between the ages of 12 and 15, most often are in trouble for fighting, disorderly conduct and similar problems," he said. "One of the ideas behind this agreement is to try to change their behaviors and their lives, so they aren't back at age 16 and 17 facing far more serious charges." "While more serious juvenile crime may not lend itself to this model, the majority of juvenile offenders should be able to benefit from this approach." Judge Kauffmann said. "In Ogle County, we are fortunate to have dedicated and professional prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers and service providers working together for our children and our community." "The cooperative agreement in Ogle County may be unprecedented in Illinois, and it certainly is a model that other jurisdictions throughout the country can utilize when developing this kind of extraordinary collaboration and commitment to effective early assessment of service needs for their delinquent youth," said John A. Tuell, Director of the Child Welfare League of America's Child Welfare - Juvenile Justice Systems Integration Initiative. "The leaders of Ogle County recognized that just saying "children are our future" is not enough. They found a way to put that slogan into practice everyday. " About the Ogle County Juvenile Justice Council Created in 2001, the Ogle County Juvenile Justice Council includes representatives of law enforcement, the courts, probation, schools, and community-based agencies that deal with juvenile delinquency and its consequences. Sherri Egan is Executive Director and can be reached at 815-732-1180, ext. 376. About Models for Change Models for Change is a national initiative funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to accelerate reform of juvenile justice systems across the country. Focused on efforts in 16 select states, the initiative aims to create replicable models of reform that effectively hold young people accountable for their actions, provide for their rehabilitation, protect them from harm, increase their life chances, and manage the risk they pose to themselves and to public safety.