Young offenders can perform many community service projects, a judge said.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The prevention and remediation of juvenile delinquency is a parental and community responsibility, said Judge Theresa Dellick of Mahoning County Juvenile Court.
The juvenile delinquency problem often begins with truancy in the early grades of school, Judge Dellick told members of the CPR Block Watch, who met Thursday at the Arco Club.
"The parents aren't getting the children to school. Our emphasis at juvenile court is on truancy. We have to get these kids in school," she said.
Looking out: Judge Dellick said her court, where she assumed judgeship this spring, has adopted the principle of balanced and restorative justice, a 10-year-old model designed to serve the needs of the offender, the victim and the community.
"We have to get back to those days when we all looked out for each other," the judge added.
First, whatever problems the juvenile offender is facing, such as abuse, neglect, substance abuse, mental illness or learning impairments, need to be addressed, she said.
Consistent with the principle that early intervention is most effective, probations for low-end offenses in her court are just as intensive as for more serious crimes end, she said. She lamented that remediation may be much harder to achieve by the time an offender is 17 or 18.
Children who are incarcerated may become "tougher and meaner and madder" and don't directly face the consequences of their actions, she continued. It's often better to return the offenders to the community to perform service projects, such as painting over graffiti or helping to clean up and plant gardens in vacant lots , she added.
"That person now must repair the damage to society, and by doing that, he takes ownership for his wrong and he also then connects with the community," she explained. "The neighbors all start to help. The kids see positive role models.
"They're our kids. We have to accept them back. We have to reintegrate them back into our society, because where else are they going to go?" the judge said.
Judge Dellick said she was going to ask block watch groups to adopt some of the teens held in the juvenile justice center.
"Let's put them to work, and let's become proud of our kids instead of just condemning them,'' she said.
Diversion program: Also addressing the group was Lt. William Rafferty of the city police department's juvenile division, who discussed the juvenile diversion program -- a state-funded project that began here last fall and has served about 100 young offenders so far.
The project is a voluntary program, serving first- and second-degree misdemeanor offenders between the ages of 7 and 17 as an alternative to formal referral to juvenile court.
The offender and his or her parents or guardians participate in counseling, education and other programs tailored to the needs of each participant.
The department has four diversion officers who go daily to the offenders' schools to check on them, he said. "We have a tutoring program for the kids who are starting to fail in school," he added.