When Judge Theresa Dellick was appointed by Gov. Bob Taft to fill the vacancy on the Mahoning County Juvenile Court bench, there was some question as to whether her lack of experience in juvenile law would be a problem. Dellick has answered that loudly and clearly through her performance over the past four months. In the words of one long-time lawyer, "She's doing a bang-up job."
Not only has the former Mahoning County Court judge proved to be a quick study, but she is demonstrating a refreshing willingness to be creative in the way the court deals with juvenile delinquents. To her, simply tossing all young offenders into detention hall and throwing away the key isn't the answer to the ever-growing problem of juvenile crime, especially in the city of Youngstown.
She poses a simply but compelling question when discussing the idea of rehabilitation, as opposed to incarceration: "Where are these kids going to go?" Her answer: "They have to go back to society."
Risk factors: It should come as no surprise that extreme economic depression, lack of parental involvement, early and persistent antisocial behavior and alienation and rebellion are the risk factors that have the most profound impact on youngsters and their families. But what is surprising is that so little attention has been paid to addressing these factors at the juvenile justice level.
"Warehousing" delinquent kids does not make them productive, Judge Dellick correctly points out. It also does not give them hope. Therefore, the judge has launched a program called the Balanced Approach to Restorative Justice (BARJ) which emphasizes rehabilitation. The program was developed by the national association of juvenile court judges and Dellick adopted it shortly after she took office in March. BARJ is designed not only to deal with the root causes of the delinquents' behavior, but to provide ways for juvenile courts to deal with the issue of overcrowding at detention centers.
As James Lowe, director of detention at the Martin P. Joyce Juvenile Justice Center, said in a recent Vindicator story, the 40-bed facility now holds an average of 65 youths a day, and that if the number of beds was increased to 80, the number of kids housed would rise to 105.
That is why Judge Dellick is developing a day-reporting program, which would permit young offenders to spend their nights at home after participating in structured activities at the detention center during the day. In addition to receiving instruction in life skills, the young people would get to meet victims of crime who could help them understand the impact of their actions.
The participants in the day-reporting program would have the opportunity to contribute to their families, schools, peers and communities, thus making them feel responsible and significant.
Self-worth: It's all about showing these young people, many of whom come from homes in which they are largely ignored, that they have self-worth and that there are options other than crime available to them.
Judge Dellick has embarked on a strategy that, if successful, will save a large number of young people from being becoming mere statistics in the criminal justice system. She deserves the support of the community.