AUSTINTOWN Officer wins award for project that gets kids back on track
Seventy-five percent of participants in the program aren't arrested again.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Every year, township police Lt. Joe Giampietro saw the same young faces pass through booking at the township police station.
Some of them were too young to buy a pack of cigarettes, but they were already veterans of the criminal justice system.
Giampietro was tired of it.
"We were seeing so many repeat offenders," he said. "We were contributing to their delinquency by not doing something the first time."
In 1988, Giampietro asked the Austintown Township trustees to start a program designed to keep juvenile criminals from making the same mistake twice.
Today, about 75 percent of the juveniles that enroll in Austintown's Juvenile Diversion Program aren't arrested a second time.
"Even if we could say it is 50 percent, we've accomplished something," Giampietro said.
Upcoming event: Giampietro will be honored for his work with the program in September at the annual awards ceremony of the Foundation for Improvement of Justice Inc. in Atlanta. He is one of eight people from around the country who will receive an award.
"It was something I never expected," Giampietro said of the award, which includes a certificate of appreciation, a commendation bar pin, a medal, and a check for $10,000. Giampietro said he has not decided how he will spend the money.
Judith Chester, executive director of the foundation, said Giampietro "has done outstanding work, more than the norm." About 100 people are nominated for the award from across the country each year, she said.
The foundation was created in the early 1980s to honor law enforcement, legislative and judicial officials as well as private citizens who took innovative approaches to improving the judicial system.
Giampietro, 64, is a Youngstown native who has served as a township police officer since 1969. He is modest when discussing the award, choosing to praise the diversion program staff instead of himself.
"There were a lot more people in this program, that have worked in this program, that made it what it is today," Giampietro said.
Jeff Magada, a social worker in Austintown who nominated Giampietro for the award, described Giampietro as "a man who saw a problem and responded to it, instead of just throwing up his hands." Magada served as supervisor for the program from 1988 until June.
How this works: Juveniles are referred to the program by school or judicial officials, counselors or the police. After receiving the referral, the program's staff meets with the family of the juvenile to discuss any family problems.
The staff then assigns responsibilities to the juveniles. The responsibilities call for the juveniles to obey their parents, attend school and meetings with the staff, and to respect themselves and others.
Those who do not fulfill their responsibilities can be sent to juvenile detention. The young offenders are discharged from the program when their parents and the program staff determine they have met their responsibilities.
Participants spend a minimum of three months in the program, said Charlotte Stamp, program supervisor. About 70 juveniles enroll in the program each year, she added.
"We place the responsibilities, the control, back in the children's hands," Stamp said. "The kids have to earn their way out. It's not a given."
Results: Magada said that in 1988, the program was the first of its kind in the area. Since then, similar programs have been created by police departments around the country, he said.
Giampietro said that in recent years he has come across graduates of the program from the early 1990s walking with their children in malls and supermarkets.
"They say, 'Hey, Mr. Giampietro, my kid's not going to do what I did,'" he said. "Most of them were good kids."