County's Juvenile Justice Shifting Focus To Rehabilitation

The Cuyahoga County Juvenile Justice Center. [photo: Matt Richmond / ideastream]
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On a recent trip to the county’s juvenile detention facility, members of Cleveland City Council’s Safety Committee saw a brand new, spacious, bright building that had a bit of room to spare, according to its volunteer coordinator Jacqueline Brackett. Brackett led Wednesday's tour and showed councilmembers the two gyms, a classroom, a library and outdoor garden areas. 

But the facility has had some controversy. There have been reports of violence among inmates and between guards and inmates. The price tag for building it ballooned to $189 million before it opened in 2011. The fire prevention system was poorly designed, resulting in repeated false alarms.

But city council members were at this county-run facility to talk about preventing youth violence and ways to combat it. Juvenile Court Judge Kristin Sweeney says they’ve begun focusing on only detaining the worst criminals. 

“One of the things that was going on 20 years ago is we were locking up the kids that were not the public safety risk,” says Sweeney. "“And so what we’re doing is we’re trying to figure out who really needs to be removed from the community versus who is simply a runaway or simply has a smart mouth that makes people want to smack them.”

Officials and community leaders in Cleveland are in the middle of a campaign against youth violence. A recent federal government-funded plan, called The Cleveland Plan, for combatting youth violence stresses community participation and rehabilitation for juveniles and detention only for the most troubled.

Sweeney says now most kids in the detention center are felons. And they also get rehabilitation services like classes and mental health services inside the detention center. But she says budget cuts have made it hard to attract and retain qualified staff. The facility can hold up to 180 young people, there were 145 males and 15 females there Wednesday. 

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