Across the nation, kids are getting caught up in the juvenile justice system more than they should be. That’s according to advocates who say more could be done to intervene before law enforcement get involved.
In Albany County alone, there are over 700 incidents involving juvenile offenders every year. But Peggy Trent, the county’s prosecuting attorney, said at least 70 percent of those cases could be handled by schools.
Linda Barton, who directs the Wyoming Afterschool Alliance, said afterschool programs can offer support too. That’s why her organization focused its 9th Annual Conference on juvenile justice. The goal was to make sure afterschool programs are prepared to effectively intervene across Wyoming.
“For instance, there aren’t community juvenile service boards in every county. There are only 15 out of 23 that have a board like that.” And Barton said, “Some counties have active prevention coalitions and some are not as active.”
Burton said the conference is part of a national effort to end “the school to prison pipeline.” The phrase is used to describe how kids who get in trouble for behavior issues at school end up in the juvenile justice system or criminal justice system.
Barton said a community approach that focuses on early intervention is good for kids and the state budget. That would involve a collaboration between schools, law enforcement and afterschool programs.
“The other benefit of utilizing an afterschool program prior to more intensive interventions is the cost.” Barton said, “Afterschool programs are typically low or no cost for communities, for parents and for schools. Whereas once you get into the more higher level interventions they’re more costly.”
Barton says specialized training related to juvenile justice and behavioral issues was offered at the conference, which was attended by 175 people from across the state.