Ohio: Treatment is the Goal in Juvenile Justice System
Some see the juvenile justice system as a way for youth to "get off light" for serious crimes. Those who work in the system see it as a way to preserve the futures of Marion, Ohio's troubled youths.
"The juvenile justice system is based on the idea of treatment," Marion Family Court Judge Robert D. Fragale said. "The idea is that as juveniles we have the ability to work with these children and do whatever we can to provide the opportunity to change their behavior to become productive members of our community.
"The adult system is about providing a fair trial and then appropriate punishment for whatever that crime might be," he said.
In the eyes of the law, juveniles and adults are seen differently. Juveniles cannot commit a crime and cannot be found guilty of a crime, they can only be found to have committed a delinquency offense, according to Fragale. Juveniles who commit an action that would be seen as a crime as an adult will have a delinquency complaint filed against them.
For youths who are arrested on felony-level delinquency offenses, the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center is their first stop. At JDC, their reality changes from video games and television to a small cinder block cell with a metal bedframe, plastic mattress and a metal toilet in the corner.
One such youth, Joseph Ellis, 17, was arrested May 1 on aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, kidnapping and abduction. He has been housed in the facility since his arrest and will remain there until his case is complete.
"We know the kids in our detention facility look at this as a punishment, but it's not really a punishment," Fragale said.
"It is something for us to do with them until we can get a handle on whatever situation they find themselves in."
Those at JDC are required to have a detention hearing within 72 hours of entering the facility. If detained, the youth will have an arraignment within two days, according to Gloria Craig, Marion County JDC administrator.
Whether the juvenile offender stays at JDC after arraignment is decided by the judge or magistrate.
"We have to make sure the child doesn't present a danger to themselves first," Fragale said. "Then we have to look at whether or not it is safe for them to be released back into our community."
There are several paths a juvenile offender can go down after trial. They could be placed on community control, they could go to a county facility like the North Central Ohio Rehabilitation Center or they could be sent to the Department of Youth Services, which is basically a prison for children.
Travis Stillion, director at NCORC, said his facility houses 20. The one-on-one attention is greater, which provides better results than a large DYS facility, if the youth is open to treatment.
"We offer them counseling and treatment to help them gain as much information and knowledge as possible to preserve their future," he said. "Their punishment is being placed here - the rest of it is to help them out in every single way we can."
Stillion said the youths who take the program seriously and have family involvement are more likely to succeed in the program.
In particularly serious offenses, the prosecutor in the case can ask for the youth to be bound over as an adult. This means that the child would stand trial in the Marion County Court of Common Pleas and possibly serve time in an adult prison if convicted.
Marion Family Court Administrator Dave Reed said after the DYS facility closed in 2009, there were fewer than five bindovers in Marion County. Between December 2011 and June 2012, there have been four.
"In terms of our total caseload, there hasn't been a huge increase," Reed said. "But what we have seen are the different types of crimes being committed by juveniles - the more violent crimes, the more severe drug usage. That is the kind of difference we have been seeing."
Trying a child as an adult is the most severe penalty the juvenile delinquency system can issue.
"There are extra processes put into place," Reed said. "The juvenile system is designed to rehabilitate children. We've said in the past as a society that we want to treat juveniles different. Otherwise, we would send them straight to common pleas court. The bindover process is saying that that system is no longer effective for this juvenile. They are an adult for all intents and purposes."
Bindovers can be heard only by a judge, not a magistrate. There is a two-part process: A probable cause hearing and an amenability hearing.
"At the probable cause hearing, a determination is made whether it is likely that the juvenile committed that crime," Reed said.
Once probable cause has been established, the juvenile is referred for an assessment with a psychiatrist to see whether the child is amenable to the juvenile system.
"We are looking at whether this juvenile is able to be rehabilitated in the juvenile system. If it is found that the juvenile is not amenable, the case is transferred to adult court," Reed said.
"In some sense, the bindover is saying 'we're giving up on your youth.' It's a huge decision for a judge to make that determination. That is a very significant decision in the juvenile's life and the life of the juvenile's family," he said.
In the end, adults and juveniles do not think on the same level and do not always warrant the same treatment under the law, according to Reed.
"Juveniles don't think the same way as adults," he said. "Juveniles make decisions without thinking things through. Many of us have looked back on choices we've made and thought that our choices could have had horrible consequences. We recognize that as a society and a system. We don't want a decision like that to necessarily destroy a child's life."
The post above is reprinted with permission from The Marion Star.
Tabitha Clark is the crime, public safety and breaking news reporter at The Marion Star in Marion, Ohio. She graduated magna cum laude from The Ohio State University in 2011 with a degree in English. Tabitha currently lives in Marion with her two children, Jason, 13, and Taylor, 11.