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Univ. of San Diego School of Law

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ariz. courts trying alternative juvenile justice

TUCSON - If you had visited the juvenile lockup in Pima County a decade ago - at the height of the adult-time-for-adult-crime campaign - you'd have seen young people sleeping in the cafeteria because of crowding.

If you'd visited five years ago, you'd have seen nearly 200 juveniles held each day.

If you visited a week ago, you would have counted 78.

There were almost 3,500 youths detained in Pima County in 2003, a number that plummeted to 2,583 last year and is still dropping.

In year four of a wide-scale transformation of Pima County's juvenile-justice system, troubled kids are being diverted into other alternatives.

"We're responding to national research which negates some commonly held beliefs that you can scare them straight," said presiding Juvenile Court Judge Patricia Escher. "More frequently, when you detain young people inappropriately, what you do is send them on a path of criminality."

Lower-risk youths might be influenced by higher-risk ones they meet in detention.

And then there's the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy, Escher said.

"If you have youths wondering, 'Am I a good person or a bad person?' and you put those young people in detention, you're confirming this is who they are and this is who we expect them to be," she said.

How states treat their kids, including those in the juvenile-justice system, got attention this month with the annual release of the Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, a private charitable organization "dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States." [Mark Godsey]

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