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Last Updated: 03/12/2018

 Article of Interest - Juvenile Justice

Success: Juvenile treatment improves Wayne County helps more, for less per teen
by Jack Kresnak, Detroit Free Press, August 13, 2002

Just six years ago, young criminals from Detroit and Wayne County were flooding the state's juvenile justice system.

Kids were sleeping on the floors of some facilities while waiting weeks or months for a bed in a treatment program.

Dozens of juvenile delinquents were shipped to states like Iowa and Colorado to relieve crowding in Michigan. Teens released from state training schools were poorly monitored and nearly 70 percent of them went on to commit new crimes.

But a quiet revolution has changed juvenile justice in Wayne County, which historically accounts for about half of the state's juvenile delinquents.

Wayne County Juvenile Court, which in 1996 placed 906 delinquent youths into state facilities -- nearly two-thirds of the state's total -- sent just 117 to the state Department of Human Services last year and only 19 so far in 2002.

Today, the state-operated W.J. Maxey Training School has a manageable population of 249, down from a high of 450 youths in the mid-1990s. The state has closed the dangerously crowded Burton Detention Center in Detroit, and its residential treatment facility in Flint because it is no longer needed.

Wayward Wayne County youths now are living at home under the control of a network of private agencies that even skeptics say is providing more supervision and treatment options. And the new system is garnering state and national attention.

The system, started by the Wayne County Department of Community Justice in February 2000, uses several methods to hold kids who commit crimes accountable. They include frequent tests for illegal drugs and alcohol, electronic tethering, mental health treatment and supervision by case managers, who are assisted by a squad of sheriff's deputies who track down kids who don't cooperate.

"It's been revolutionary," said Elizabeth Arnovits, executive director of the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency in Lansing. "I'm exceptionally pleased and I was not an early supporter of this."

Michigan's juvenile justice system always has been complex, but in its simplest form it works this way: Youths that juvenile court judges believe need more than probation are made wards of the state and are committed to the Department of Human Services for treatment in residential facilities.

In Wayne County, that used to mean urban youths going to places in rural Michigan for a year or two, then being returned home with little supervision. For many, the temptations of the neighborhood to use drugs, skip school and commit crimes were irresistible.

"The old system was kind of a revolving door," said Westland Police Chief Emery Price. "As far as I'm concerned, it's working much better than it did in the past."

State posed challenge
The seeds for revolution were planted in 1996 by Gerald Miller, former director of the state Department of Social Services, now known as the Department of Human Services. Miller offered a block grant to any Michigan county willing to accept responsibility for its delinquent youths.

Only Wayne County accepted.

County Executive Ed McNamara and his deputy, Mike Duggan -- now Wayne County prosecutor -- said the county could do a better job rehabilitating its delinquent youths than the state.

At the same time, the county was tackling the abysmal conditions of the old Wayne County Youth Home, which had come under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The federal government said the facility was violating the constitutional rights of youths to a safe and healthy environment.

The county built a new juvenile detention facility at a cost of $48 million. It opened in 1998 and is now praised as a national model.

A state-of-the-art juvenile detention facility is one thing. An efficient juvenile justice system is something else.

To lead the revolution, McNamara appointed Jeriel Heard, a former sheriff's department narcotics officer and the county's director of the Department of Community Justice.

Heard's biggest challenge was persuading juvenile court judges to take a chance on the untested system he was designing.

He divided the county into five geographic areas and solicited proposals from various nonprofit agencies to manage the cases of delinquent youths in each area.

Each Care Managment Organization, or CMO, would be responsible for the treatment needs of 300 to 500 delinquent youths.

Payments were structured so that the CMOs could keep more money by moving kids from expensive beds in secure facilities to community-based programs.

To make the system accountable, each CMO was told that it would be rewarded with bonuses when kids succeeded by staying drug-free or graduating from high school.

But the CMOs also could be penalized financially if kids were not properly supervised and got into more trouble with police.

Communities offer help
Each of the five CMOs was free to develop its own ways of integrating delinquents into their communities.

In western Wayne County, for example, Growth Works in Plymouth developed a series of community teams in each city that include such members as the police chief, district court judge, schools superintendent, business leader and mental health program manager. The teams meet regularly with each youth not in residential placement. The youths must talk about their crimes and how they are making amends with victims and their plans for the future.

The teams question the youths, sometimes challenging their honesty or praising their progress.

"When I was first invited to be on it, I had some reservations," said 18th District Court Judge Gail McKnight, a former juvenile court referee and prosecutor. "There was a certain amount of cynicism on my part."

But McKnight said she's been won over by the concept that forces the local CMO, Growth Works, to work closely with the police, the schools and community leaders to keep kids out of trouble.

"It's a way for the community to take some responsibility, as well as a way for kids to recognize that the community expects them to change and will hold them accountable," McKnight said.

Educating the first step
Most delinquents don't understand how their behavior impacts their community, said Michael Williams, president of the Starr Vista CMO in northwest Detroit and parts of Redford Township and Dearborn Heights.

"A lot of our kids are just starting to understand what justice is," he said. "Many of them thought of themselves as victims, someone who nobody cared about except the dope man."

Rosemary Sarri, of the University of Michigan School of Social Work, is a nationally recognized juvenile justice expert.

"Much more than in the past, the Department of Community Justice has really made a difference in kids' lives," Sarri said. "No matter how you look at the numbers in the system, you have to say that there has been a big shift."

The county has been saving money by reducing the numbers of kids going into Maxey, where treating one child costs $327 each day, about twice the cost of the community-based programs.

By shifting kids to the CMO system, the county is able to help more kids just starting to get into trouble, Heard said.

Federal rules prevent counties and states from using Medicaid funds to pay for the care of kids in public institutions such as training schools. But when kids are being supervised by private, nonprofit institutions, Medicaid funds can be used for kids from low-income families.

Heard now is overseeing a $164-million CMO system, half paid for by the county.

"This is going to save money for the county taxpayer," Heard said. "Medicaid can pay for counseling, sessions with psychiatrists, psychological testing and drug abuse treatment."

Sixteen-year-old Andrew Giacomantonio of New Boston in far western Wayne County said that last year he was drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and raising hell.

"I was on a warpath, hurting myself and not even seeing it," he said. "I didn't care what anyone else thought."

After getting locked up for violating probation, Andrew was admitted into the Growth Works CMO and started thinking about his behavior.

His caseworker, Jennifer Sibel, "helps me out a lot," Andrew said. He said she gave him consequences such as putting him back on an electronic tether. "If she hadn't done that I would've been getting away with all kinds of stuff."

Contact JACK KRESNAK at 313-223-4544 or

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