Youth in a Topeka juvenile correctional facility will soon begin training in a field that could net them attractive career options in the future.
Thanks to instruction from Fort Scott Community College (FSCC) and a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, students at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex (KJCC) now have the opportunity to gain skills in “Environmental Water Technology,” a field in which the median annual income in Kansas is $41,000.
The Department of Labor has identified that a shortage of technicians in the field is looming, as the mean age of those in the industry is in the mid-50s. The agency’s grant is targeting trainees in the 18-21 age range, and FSCC is bringing the opportunity to those in the Kansas juvenile justice system.
KJCC held an open house on Friday, Feb. 8, to introduce its new Environmental Water Technology course of study and encourage the youth at the facility to enroll in the program.
Classes in Environmental Water Technology, which are offered to residents of KJCC who have received a high school diploma or a GED, will begin in March. Enrollees in the program will typically study in a classroom setting during the morning, then engage in hands-on lab work in the afternoon, said Megan Milner, deputy superintendent of KJCC.
As Pomp and Circumstance played from a laptop computer, adults, some in prison staff uniforms, and a handful of teenage girls in gray sweat suits, stand in respectful silence.
Finally, a solitary young woman in a red gown pushes her way through a heavy green security door, which slams with cold severity behind her. The door’s blast doesn’t faze her, however. She’s heard it before. She smiles sheepishly, but holds her head high, her eyes fixed straight ahead.
Emily won’t celebrate her graduation with any parties at her home. She won’t be toasted at any restaurants by family and friends. Instead she’ll spend another night at the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex (KJCC) in Topeka.
But it will be her last. She’s going home for good the next day, to live with her mother, to start a new life.
Emily enrolled in a Topeka area high school in the fall of 2011, ready for a senior year like most students experience – going to ball games, participating in activities, maybe even attending the prom in the spring.
But Emily’s plans were interrupted. After several stints in foster care and juvenile facilities, and a short stay with her father in Mississippi, Emily was informed that her near future would be spent at the lock-down facility for juveniles in Topeka, serving time for previous convictions.
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback took the first step Friday to reorganize the state’s juvenile justice system, putting into motion his plan to move the management of more than 1,500 juvenile offenders under the auspices of the state department of corrections.
By signing an Executive Reorganization Order (ERO) on Friday, Jan. 18, Brownback sent to the Kansas Legislature his proposal to place the Juvenile Justice Authority (JJA) agency under the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC). The signing of the ERO gives the legislature 60 days to act on the issue. If neither legislative chamber rejects the ERO, the move will become official.
The Kansas JJA had been battered by criticism for some time, prompting Brownback to move aggressively. A post audit report released in 2012 brought to light inefficiencies and neglect in the agency.
But even before the post audit was made public, Brownback removed the commissioner of the JJA last March and began consolidating some of the administrative services of the two agencies.
“The post audit highlighted how the decades-old approach to a social-services focus failed to provide the safety and security that our juvenile offenders require and deserve,” Brownback said.
The JJA currently houses 328 juvenile offenders in two facilities – the Larned Juvenile Correctional Facility, and the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex in Topeka. The other juveniles under the supervision of the JJA are located in community placement.
Data accumulated over a two year period revealed interesting trends in minority youth contact with law enforcement and in the detention of juveniles in Kansas – data that researchers are sharing with the general population across Kansas with the goal to “change the mentality of the system.”
That challenge, issued by former state Representative Melody McCray-Miller of Wichita, came at one of a series of community forums held to share the preliminary findings of researchers from Nebraska who compiled the Kansas State Disproportionate Minority Assessment.
Dr. Elizabeth Neeley (pictured left), director of the Nebraska Minority Justice Committee, and Dr. Mitch Herian of the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, are traveling across Kansas to educate on the disparities in how minority youth are represented in the state’s juvenile justice system.
Of Kansans ages 10-17 who are considered “at risk,” African-Americans experience much higher arrest rates, and African-Americans and Hispanics are both significantly over-represented in detention facilities. The goal of this study, Neeley said, is to identify trends and then seek solutions to preventable problems.