County sets aside $600K for juvenile-justice system


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Johnson County officials said they're worried minority youth are running into legal issues at a higher rate than their white peers.

The county has set aside $600,000 for the Juvenile Justice and Youth Development Program. The county is now accepting applications for projects to use that money.

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil — who is assigned to a county committee in charge of the Juvenile Justice and Youth Development Program — said he wants the committee to focus this year on addressing the disproportionate number of minority children in contact with law enforcement.

"We are seeing a particular trend that is very concerning — the number of African American kids entering the juvenile-court system," Neuzil said.

The county's budget allows the Grant Planning Committee $600,000 every three years to be put toward different projects in the Juvenile Justice and Youth Development program.

Supervisor Janelle Rettig said the disproportionality has a lot more to do with poverty level than it has to do with ethnicity.

"When family members have had involvement with law enforcement or poverty comes into play, risk factors go up," she said.

Neuzil said another problem identified in the community involves the gap between when school gets out and when parents get home from work. He said the committee will examine that gap in regards to developmental support and caring relationships with adults, as well as opportunities for community members to offer their support.

"We certainly want to see these dollars address these trends and fill some of these gaps to help these young people that are getting themselves into trouble," he said.

In previous years, county social-services coordinator Lynette Jacoby said, the grant money has gone to four or five different organizations. This year, she hopes groups in the community will collaborate on projects so they're not competing as much for the same resources.

"The committee thought there was so much competition between agencies with everyone trying to survive and go after funding," she said. "Collaboration creates more effective and creative programs, takes the competitive nature out, and creates commonalties."

Agencies interested in receiving grant money for the Juvenile Justice and Youth Development program are required to reapply and submit proposals every three years. These proposals will be submitted to the Board of Directors and the Juvenile Justice and Youth Development committee March 2. Recipients of grant money will be announced April 5, a date subject to change. New programs and initiatives will take effect July 1.

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