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Officials create new diversion program for children

BY RACHEL GREEN | OCTOBER 02, 2014 5:00 AM

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In an effort to keep children from becoming juvenile delinquents, several Iowa City and Johnson County officials have been named to be part of a national project.

Ligget’s LADDERS, which is a capstone project in the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform Fellows Network at Georgetown University, focuses on ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system.

“…It’s important to us that we take an active role in juvenile-justice and youth-development issues, as well as addressing any systematic barriers to [children’s] success,” said Sara Barron, one of the team members.

After completing a training last year, the group was tasked with creating a capstone project, or a set of actions each participant will design and take in order to reduce ethnic disparities in their community.

According to a 2013 report presented to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors by the Iowa Department of Human Rights Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning, African-Americans accounted for 10 percent of the youth population in 2011, and whites made up 78 percent of the population.

But that same report said that year, 35 white juveniles were held, while 53 African American were also held.

“Before we went to the actual training, our first application wasn’t received well,” said LaTasha DeLoach, Johnson County’s disproportionate minority contact coordinator. “Once we went through training and understood the topic, we were able to start working on our project.”

The center is a program that has many modes of looking at juvenile delinquency, as well as promoting positive youth and child development.

The Johnson County team’s project was named in memory of Jan Liggett, an advocate who created Johnson County’s first juvenile-diversion program more than 30 years ago.

The group will host its first meeting on Oct. 15.

Sixth Judicial District juvenile-court supervisor and group member Chris Wyatt said that as of 2012, there were 890 complaints filed against children.

However, because one child can have numerous complaints filed against her or him, the exact number of youths charged is slightly fewer than this number.

Barron said she became involved in the project through her jobs as co-head of the Johnson County Disproportionate Minority Contact committee and as the community-relations director at Big Brother Big Sisters of Johnson County.

Ligget’s LADDERS will focus on preventing first-time juvenile offenders from getting “caught” in the justice system.

“I always tell people that 82 percent of kids who are first-time offenders never get out of the system,” DeLoach said. “If we catch first-timers, we have a better chance of kids not getting caught in the system.”

When the project was approved by Georgetown University in September, the Johnson County group members received an executive certificate and had the opportunity to use technical assistance offered by instructors in order to aid the implementation of their project.

“Having a team who can work together effectively on a multi-system approach to problem-solving means that we can create more comprehensive solutions to combat the racial and ethnic disparities present in our systems,” Barron said. “It takes a commitment from the police, juvenile court, the schools, and the community to create those kinds of lasting changes.”


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