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Juvenile system seen as national model

A delegation of 15 judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, other court workers and law enforcement personnel, from Jefferson Parish, La., is scheduled to wrap up a two-day visit to the Clayton County Juvenile Court today.

The delegation is here to learn about the court system's alternative detention programs, treatment programs, and accountability techniques that have made it a model juvenile court system in the nation, according to Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske.

The court's programs focus on alternative responses to delinquent behavior in the public school system, Teske said. "[In the past], it wasn't unusual to arrest a kid for a school fight, and put them in lockup," he said. "That goes on across the country. That's the zero tolerance policy that causes that," he added.

"Now, this may be a kid who would never, ever think of stealing from somebody, or breaking into a home," Teske said. "He isn't even a gang-banger. Now, you lock him up in a place where I put gang-bangers, and I put burglars, and I put folks in there who steal cars, and I'm now introducing this kid to a whole group, at one time, in one place.

"So, that's the reason that we set up these systems — to do the best we can, to make sure we don't put the wrong kids in lockup," he said.

In 2004, the Clayton County Juvenile Court System implemented a comprehensive program known as the School Referral Reduction Protocol, according to Teske.

It is a collaborative effort that involves the cooperation of the court system, Clayton County Public Schools, the Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services, the Clayton County District Attorney's Office, and the Clayton County Police Department.

Instead of arresting a student for offenses such as a school fight, the program's protocol allows school resource officers (SRO's) to give a warning on the first offense, for example. On the second offense, the student might be referred to a school conflict workshop or to mediation, or required to perform in-school community service, Teske said.

On the third offense, the SRO would file a complaint before the court, he said. "This type of program has helped to reduce the number of kids that have to be detained by 50 percent," Teske said.

Roy Juncker, Jr., director of juvenile services for Jefferson Parish, La., said he hopes to take information back to the New Orleans area that can lead to change. "The main reason we came was to address the school-to-prison pipeline," he said. "A third of all of the arrests in our parish are originating from the school system, and that's a phenomenon across the country," he said.

"We can get an idea of what's been done here in Clayton, and go back home, and start talking about strategic ways to implement similar types of programming back home," Juncker said.

Juvenile Court Judge Nancy Amato Konrad, of Jefferson Parish, agreed. "What we're doing now is not making schools or communities safer. We're not seeing drops in recidivism at school, or in the community, as a result of what we're doing, so we know what we're doing is not working," Konrad said.

"We're looking for a new approach to improve safety in schools and safety in communities."