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Editorial: Alternative needed for lost juvenile home

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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About a year ago, Gov. Terry Branstad delivered a statement defending the shutdown of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. The home was under intense scrutiny after Disability Rights Iowa had reported that three girls had been locked in solitary confinement for several months, one being shut away for almost an entire year. The excessive force of restraint for the juveniles there prompted the shutdown by Branstad; yet no proper alternative was proposed for where residents should go instead.

To keep children off the path of delinquency, there has to be some measure to keep them out of prison and in more appropriate holdings such as juvenile detention centers.

Twenty-two states in the United States have passed laws to prevent juveniles from being tried as adults in court, but Iowa is not one of them. The state can prosecute children who are under 18 if officials deem it necessary.

It is imperative that the state of Iowa is more supportive and nurturing of its youth, whether they are delinquents or not. Failing to address the problems afflicting children who have committed crimes will only burden the state in the long term, but more importantly, it could negatively affect kids forever.  

Whether the employees who served at the Iowa Juvenile Home had used excessive force is beside the point of the overall argument to have an institution for youths who have committed crimes.

More often than not, the children who are apt to commit crimes come from miserable environments and circumstances; being exposed to domestic abuse, child abuse, and illegal drug use, many of these children don’t stand a chance to succeed and turn their lives around. It is crucial that kids in Iowa have a place that can effectively address mental-health and educational concerns, in order to properly prepare them for life outside of a correctional facility.

If investments aren’t made by the state to keep funding a juvenile home, it is sad to say where these children end up instead. Essentially abandoning the youth means they are increasingly subject to being tried as legal adults, and that could eventually it lead to judges sentencing them to prison at ages as young as 16 years old.

The mistreatment of juveniles by the Toledo employees could have dealt with more effectively by the state. The solitary confinement used were incredibly dehumanizing, but just as debasing is the inaction of state officials in not developing a new strategy to better assist children in need of guidance.

It has been a year since the closing of the Iowa Juvenile Home, and still there have been no measures submitted by either Branstad or state officials to replace what was lost. The initial impact was relocating the 22 youths who resided there to either prisons or to juvenile centers out of the state.

The long-term effect is something that is both unknown and unsettling.

Behind every facility such as the one formerly in Toledo, there are success stories waiting to happen. The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that the state should create a new, proper alternative to the former Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo so that children in the state have a chance to live positive lives out of negative circumstances.


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