LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Judges and youth advocates say Arkansas’ patchwork juvenile probation system needs an overhaul to treat children in the system more fairly.
Efforts are underway in at least 18 of the state’s 75 counties to improve probation and the overall juvenile justice system. The goal is to reduce the number of children in detention and to keep them out of court, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported .
Judges in some of those counties now use probation to connect youth with community services instead of punishment. The changes were prompted by the Arkansas Supreme Court Commission on Children, Youth and Families.
The commission is working to roll out a statewide use of risk-assessment tools in every juvenile court case. It’s also drafting a consistent set of standards for juvenile probation systems that individual judges in Arkansas can choose to adopt.
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The commission hired the Robert F. Kennedy National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice in 2016 to evaluate the probation systems in Pulaski and Sebastian counties and the 10th Judicial District. The report, completed last year, found that children and families involved with the probation system don’t always get the help they need, oftentimes because of overworked officers and judges who don’t change how they handle such cases.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Tina Stratton, a Franklin County juvenile probation officer. “It’s hard to monitor them (youth), to make sure they’re going to (court-ordered) counseling consistently.”
The report found that probation officers had caseloads more than twice what’s recommended, inconsistent training and low salaries. The result is that Arkansas children on probation don’t get enough support and may re-offend as youth or later as adults.
“Ideally, we could do more for kids, but the truth of it is we won’t be able to do more until there’s more resources,” said Whitney Roman, the 10th Circuit juvenile public defender. “It’s just not going to happen. That’s the real world. Sadly, the kids are suffering for it.”
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com