Blog: Ohio

Celebrating Our “Natural Helpers” Who Work With Justice-Involved Teens

We are so thankful for our youth mentors! On October 22, 2012, over 100 people came together at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center to celebrate our “Natural Helpers.” Natural Helpers are mentors who have been trained and matched with Court involved youth to provide “whatever works” types of support to youth and their families. Judge Nick Kuntz and Project Director Michelle White, recognized our Natural Helpers in three categories: Years of Service, Special Recognition and Distinguished Service. It is truly amazing to see people giving of themselves for the care of others.
The program included a fantastic dinner followed by a selection from a local vocalist, Billi Nicol. The attendees were then treated to the words and encouragement of motivational speaker, Alfred “Coach” Powell. Coach Powell shared personal stories with the group that included how he was mentored by one of our current Natural Helpers.

Hocking County, Ohio, Celebrates Recovery Month

In beautiful Hocking County, Ohio, about an hour southeast of Columbus, Juvenile Court intake numbers are high due to drug-related offenses. The court has seen the kinship population grow (grandparents and other relatives taking over care of youth) mainly due to the increase in drug abuse and drug-related offenses.
Like all of the 29 Reclaiming Futures sitesHocking County is partnering with courts, treatment providers, juvenile justice, communities and families to meet the urgent needs of young people in the juvenile justice system.
Judge Richard Wallar says it best in a Recovery Month letter in the Logan Daily News:

Please do not lose hope because there is good news. Many local people, including neighbors, relatives and friends, are receiving help and are in recovery from mental health or substance abuse disorders. They are contributing to our businesses, connecting with their families, and giving back to the community. But if we want more people to join them on a path of recovery, we need to take action — now. Too many people are still unaware that treatment works, and that these conditions can be alleviated, in the same way that other health disorders, such as diabetes and hypertension, are being treated. We need to work together to make recovery the expectation.

In celebration of Recovery Month, we honor the Reclaiming Futures Hocking County team for:

Juvenile Justice Reform with Tyler the Poodle and More; News Roundup

Juvenile Justice Reform

  • Summer Work Program Brings Change; Teens Congratulated for Personal Growth (
    Jackson, Tennessee Mayor Jerry Gist’s Gang Prevention Task Force gave jobs to 43 "at-risk" youth between the ages of 15 and 18 at different locations across Madison County. The young people worked and received mentoring. The county has seen a much lower juvenile arrest rate during this same period.
  • Project to Help Juveniles Make Successful Transition (
    The Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission on Tuesday announced the start of a demonstration project to reduce the recidivism and improve the outcomes of juvenile offenders. The project will provide intensive reintegration services to help youth transition back into their communities.
  • Prosecutors Share Details of Juvenile Justice System (
    Juvenile justice is one of the most difficult parts of the law, but a necessary one designed to do what is in the best interests of the children involved.
  • Kids in Court Have a Friend in Tyler the Poodle (
    Tyler [the poodle] is one of thousands of certified pet-therapy dogs nationwide, but rather than visiting people in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice centers, schools or libraries, he helps kids in the juvenile court system.
  • Ohio Delegation Visits NJ To Study Juvenile Detention Reform Efforts (
    A delegation from the state of Ohio including judges, court administrators, representative from the Ohio Department of Youth Services, and other stakeholders, are in New Jersey to attend a two-day working session designed to help Ohio replicate New Jersey’s success in juvenile detention reform.

Scrapbooking Connects Troubled Teens With Family

A group of volunteers is helping young people improve communication skills and build better family relationships in Juvenile Court in Kenton, Ohio. We are mentors, recruited by Reclaiming Futures Hardin County.
For the past year, scrapbooking workshops have provided a conversation-starter for the families of our court-involved young people. On Thursday evenings, mothers and children gather and assemble "Life Books" that help them tell their personal stories. Families open up and get to know one another better. The results have been amazing!


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.

Children’s Law Center Releases Two Publications on Ohio Youth in the Criminal Justice System

The Children’s Law Center (CLC) recently released a report titled “Falling Through the Cracks: A New Look at Ohio Youth in the Adult Criminal Justice System” and an accompanying publication called “In Their Own Words.” The report focuses on youth in Ohio who are transferred to the adult court system or held in adult jails and prisons, while the second document highlights the stories and experiences of eight individuals – four family members and four youth – who have been personally affected by Ohio’s policy of transferring (or binding over) youth to the adult system.
In recent decades, changing Ohio laws have caused more youth to come into contact with the adult criminal justice system. Although the state has more recently taken steps to change this, the current process has resulted in over 300 youth placed in adult courts or adult jails and prisons each year throughout Ohio.

JMATE 2012: Ask a Judge: Demystifying Juvenile Court and How Judges and Treatment Providers Can Partner Together Successfully

Earlier this afternoon, I sat in on a JMATE panel with three juvenile court judges who discussed how Reclaiming Futures works in their courts and why other courts should consider implementing the model. 
Judge Anthony Capizzi of Dayton, Ohio, began the presentation with the problem: too many teens today are struggling with drugs, alcohol and crime. Eighty percent of the youth Judge Capizzi sees have alcohol or other drug problems and many are self medicating. And this is not unique to Ohio.
As a juvenile court judge, Judge Capizzi finds that treatment helps reduce recidivism, saves money and builds safer communities. BUT most juvenile courts are not set up to detect and treat substance abuse or provide mental health services. And this is where the six step Reclaiming Futures model comes in. Under the Reclaiming Futures model, court teams are set up with a judge, probation officer, treatment provider and community members. The teams work together to make sure that kids are screened for alcohol and other drugs at intake and sent to treatment when needed.

Ohio Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Requiring Youth Sex Offenders to Register for Life

Earlier today, the Ohio Supreme Court struck down part of a law mandating certain youth sex offenders to register for life, because the punishment is cruel and unusual.
Under Ohio's Adam Walsh Act, teens classified as the most dangerous sex offenders must register - for the rest of their lives - with law enformencement and have their photos, addresses and criminal histories distributed to neighbors and schools.
In a 5-2 opinion, Ohio's Supreme Court ruled the punishment violates both Ohio and US constitutions because it is cruel and unusual and because it violates a defendant's right to due process. 
From the Associated Press:

Not only is the requirement unconstitutional, it also defeats the purpose of the juvenile court system, Justice Paul Pfeifer said, writing for the majority.
The mandatory registration "undercuts the rehabilitative purpose of Ohio's juvenile system and eliminates the important role of the juvenile court's discretion in the disposition of juvenile offenders and thus fails to meet the due process requirement of fundamental fairness," Pfeifer wrote.
He also said it defeats another goal of the juvenile court system: cloaking children in confidentiality and allowing them to avoid stigma once they have served their time in the juvenile system and become adults.
"Confidentiality promotes rehabilitation by allowing the juvenile to move into adulthood without the baggage of youthful mistakes," Pfeifer said. "Public exposure of those mistakes brands the juvenile as an undesirable wherever he goes."

Reassessing School Safety in Light of Monday's School Shooting Tragedy in Ohio

As policymakers and the general public grapple with responding to and making sense of Monday's tragic shooting in Ohio, the Justice Policy Institute, which has studied school violence prevention for more than a decade, emphasizes that communities should increase the use of practices proven to keep schools safe, and avoid ineffective policies that would lead to worse outcomes for youth and communities.

"Yesterday was a tragic day in Ohio, and for all of us who want safe schools, and safe communities for our young people," stated Tracy Velázquez, Executive Director of the Justice Policy Institute. "As we all try to understand how and why an event like this happened, we need to soberly reflect on what really works to reduce school-violence and help at-risk kids before something goes wrong, and resist the temptation to seek solutions that sound tough, but are ineffective."

Based on recent research conducted by JPI and leading educational researchers, practices proven to improve school safety include the following:

  • Implement evidence-based initiatives proven to improve safety in schools: School districts should work toward abandoning zero tolerance and law enforcement responses to student behavior and begin relying on evidence-based programs that include peer mediation, mentoring and peaceable education.
  • Hire more counselors: Guidance counselors and school psychologists are trained to be mentors and work with youth, and are a positive investment in schools. However, schools are not fully staffing according to accepted standards. The American School Counselor Association says that school counselors should consider their roles to include skills in conflict-resolution particular to schools, to intervene in cases of bullying and harassment, and to prevent and intervene in cases where there might be substance abuse issues or the potential for violence. Fully implemented guidance counselor programs have also been found to promote feelings of safety in both poorer and wealthier schools.
  • Invest in education over an increased justice system responses to student behavior: With the array of negative collateral consequences associated with involvement in the juvenile justice system, it is important that policymakers and administrators focus efforts to better our education system as opposed to relying on increased justice system interventions. Some ways to both improve student achievement and promote safer schools include increased hiring of quality teachers, staff, counselors, and other positive role models; building safe, clean schools; and providing training and supports for teachers and staff related to behavior management.
  • Avoid policies that will make schools less safe, and harm kids: Unnecessary referrals to the juvenile justice system disrupt a student's educational process - practices that can lead to suspension, expulsion, or other alienation from school. These negative effects set youth on a track to drop out of school and put them at greater risk of becoming involved in the justice system later on, all at tremendous costs to the youth themselves, their families, their communities and to taxpayers. More police in schools, including School Resource Officers (SROs) have not been shown to create more safety, and can have negative impacts both on school environment and on youth, as schools rely on arrests rather than school-based responses, pulling youth into the justice system.

Budget Crises, High-Needs Kids and Juvenile Justice Reforms

As California and the nation continue to struggle with budget crises, creative and cost-effective approaches in the provision of services for high-needs youthful offender populations are becoming increasingly necessary.
Leaders in California, Georgia and New York have recently called for reform or “realignment” of their out-of-date state-run juvenile justice systems. While the urgency for reform in many states is a result of strained state budgets, it serves as an opportunity to engage juvenile justice stakeholders to restructure their juvenile justice systems in a more efficient and effective manner.
One population to pay particular attention to when planning for juvenile justice realignment is the disproportionate number of youth with mental health needs in juvenile facilities, known as the “crossover caseload.”
These highest-needs youth have historically been neglected during times of reform, when in fact they are the youth most in need of quality, individualized care. As a result of 1980s mental health system reform, juvenile justice systems, in effect, replaced public psychiatric hospitals in the care of mentally ill youth; despite the fact that the juvenile justice system lacks the resources to provide adequate services for this population.
Although rates of juvenile incarceration have been declining, a disproportionate number of youth in this crossover caseload are still being confined, between 50-70 percent nationally and 42 percent in California, according to conservative estimates.

Dayton, Ohio Appoints New Reclaiming Futures Project Director

Judge Nick Kuntz, Judge Anthony Capizzi and the Montgomery County Juvenile Court welcome Michelle White to the Reclaiming Futures Team in Dayton, Ohio. Michelle began her career with the Court nine years ago as a Probation Officer. Throughout her tenure with the Court, Michelle has served as a Gender Specific Probation Officer and as the Intensive Probation Supervisor. Michelle is very passionate about working with families, volunteers and the community. She has been involved with the Reclaiming Futures movement in Dayton throughout her time with the Court and is looking forward to building on earlier successes.
Michelle holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Wright State University and a Master's Degree in Justice Administration from Tiffin University. She is happily married to her husband of nine years and has a two year old son.

Are we reducing crime by limiting the use of incarceration?

When casual readers of the news media search for stories about juvenile crime and justice today, they find a lot of good news. Other than the perennial media coverage of individual crimes and victimization, an online search about juvenile justice today generates dozens of stories about states uncovering abuses in their youth corrections systems, reducing their rates of juvenile incarceration and increasing their reliance on community-based programs for young offenders.
Many of these stories refer to the ongoing decline in crime and violence as possible proof that these changes in policy and practice are improving public safety. But, a prudent reader will stop to ask about the direction of causality in these explanations. Are we reducing crime by limiting the use of incarceration, or is incarceration down because crime is down? The question is more than a topic for academic study. We need to consider our answer carefully if we hope to sustain these recent improvements over the long term.
The number of juvenile offenders being held in secure correctional institutions has been falling nationwide. Advocates in the juvenile justice field welcome this reform because reductions in the use of secure confinement allow state and local jurisdictions to intervene with young offenders in their own homes and communities, which is less costly and can be more effective than incarceration in reducing recidivism and preventing crime.
My colleague Douglas Evans and I recently reviewed the most prominent juvenile correctional reform models from the past 40 years, and we concluded that some models of reform were likely to be more sustainable than others. Specifically, we recommended the "realignment" approach now being implemented in California and those established in Wayne County (Detroit), Michigan since 2000.

The role of families in supporting incarcerated youth in Ohio

In March of 2010, I wrote a piece for Reclaiming Futures about the importance of family for youth in the juvenile justice system and highlighted the Juvenile Relational Inquiry Tool (JRIT). I write with an exciting update that the Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) is the first juvenile justice agency to take the tool state-wide with the support of training and technical assistance from Vera’s Family Justice Program.

DYS’s innovation around family engagement was recently highlighted at OJJDP’s annual conference. More detailed research from the first year of Vera’s partnership with DYS—specifically the roll out of the JRIT at two facilities—is now available. The research brief describes the motivation and emotional support families provide to youth, the cost associated with staying in touch during incarceration and reactions of juvenile correctional officers to incorporating the JRIT into their practice.

Reclaiming Futures in Ohio

In Ohio, Reclaiming Futures fellow Carol Martin was featured in the Logan Daily News Reporter for her work to combat drug abuse by providing educational materials to local educators and agencies.
After learning about local teen drug abuse, Carol ordered booklets from the Foundation for a Drug-Free World (which you can request here) and began bringing them to schools. The booklets detail each kind of drug, its nicknames, and short and long term effects on the human body and mind. It also includes information on what happens when teens combine drugs and other substances.
From the article:

Carol Martin, a member of Reclaiming Futures, a community coalition designed to mentor and assist youth in the community, says she believes the materials will be useful to both educators and parents. “I thought it would be great for the schools, and it’s a different way than just sitting and talking about drugs,” she said.

After using the booklets in North Carolina, that state saw a 40% decrease in the number of deaths or accidental poisonings, and Carol is hopeful that they will have a similar effect in Ohio. 
Great job, Carol! Keep up the good work and please keep us updated on your progress.