Grand County is leading the way in juvenile corrections, winning the Senate Bill 94 Agency of the Year award for 2013.
Colorado’s Senate Bill 94 provides services to youth at risk at the local level, working to keep them in the community and out of detention centers. Colorado’s juvenile justice legislation has been called progressive for its focus on rehabilitation, fair treatment and appropriate punishment instead of punitive action.
Representatives with the state’s commission on Senate Bill 94 said the county has gone above and beyond in their impact on kids and families, especially with the challenges and limited resources found in the county’s rural setting. And those challenges have largely been met by the efforts of Juvenile Services, a unique department developed to serve the needs of local youth.
“It’s great to be recognized statewide as the agency that’s doing all the right things,” said Juvenile Services director Kelly Friesen. “The county’s dedication to kids has always impressed me.”
Director Kelly Friesen has worked with county youth for 18 years. She’s the Senate Bill 94 coordinator for the 14th Judicial District, overseeing youth cases in Grand, Routt and Moffat counties. And she has worked as director of Juvenile Services since its inception in 2005.
Juvenile Services handles cases when kids have serious offenses. They conduct detention assessments and track kids on parole. But they also work to keep young people out of detention. They offer classes for parents and life skills training for kids who aren’t in trouble. They support parents in crisis when a child’s behavior is out of control, even if they haven’t yet broken any laws. They work with the district attorney to provide juvenile diversion for minor offenses, like underage drinking. They sign a contract with juvenile service, pays some fines and do community service and the offense is “diverted” from their record so it doesn’t haunt them as an adult.
“If this program didn’t exist, they would be in detention. But because of this program, we’re able to supervise them in the community, which is really better for kids,” Friesen said.
In her nearly two decades working in youth corrections in the county, Friesen said she’s seen a noticeable change in recidivism – youngsters returning to the system for committing the same crime.
“Ten years ago, we’d see the same kids over and over,” she said. “Now we’re getting the kids the right services at the right time … rather than guessing what we think they need.”
Statewide, the philosophy toward addressing juvenile corrections has changed, Friesen said. The old system locked up kids to teach them a lesson. But with an influx of studies on youth behavior and young brain development, corrections officers are turning to evidence-based practices and screening to help kids develop more responsible behaviors.
“We’ve criminalized a lot of typical kid behavior, which is unfortunate,” Friesen said. “We don’t want to put low-level offenders in detention because we know it has bad outcomes.”
Juvenile Services does all its work with just a two-person staff, including Friesen. But many of its programs have been replicated in other districts, including areas on the Front Range.
Adams and Broomfield counties adopted her court orientation packet, which makes the process less intimidating for parents. And Moffat County is working to incorporate Grand County’s truancy and municipal diversion programs to keep kids from having criminal records into adulthood. Moffat County would also like to incorporate Grand County’s system of offering pay for community service work to help cover restitution burdens.
“I think Kelly Friesen has a great program there, and there’s no sense in re-creating the wheel,” said Tara Wojtkiewicz with Moffat County.
Before Youth Services was launched in 2005, the department’s offerings were disjointed and managed by several different county agencies. An all-encompassing juvenile department was the brainchild of Grand County Commissioner James Newberry.
“The idea was to consolidate and become more efficient,” Newberry said. “Then become more proactive in keeping kids out of the system.”
Newberry chairs the local Senate Bill 94 committee and continues to oversee the Juvenile Services Department. Friesen calls him instrumental in her department’s success, including winning the Senate Bill 94 Agency of the Year award.
“Very seldom do we take the time to celebrate our victories, because it seems there’s always another issue to deal with,” Newberry said. “It feels good Grand County is being recognized, but more than an award, we’re getting people to copy what we do here.”
Still, Grand County’s rural location presents its challenges. Friesen said they’re creative in formulating plans to meet each child’s needs, even when they don’t have the resources in-county to meet those needs. For example, she contracts with Jefferson County to utilize their weekend work crew to help kids meet their community service requirements.
“We’re really good at thinking outside the box,” she said.
More than anything, Friesen said she’d like to see more referrals earlier on in the process. Parents’ buy-in and support is key to the success of juvenile corrections, but Friesen realizes the system can be intimidating. They often wait until things are out of control before turning to her department for help.
“Until people are in crisis, they don’t think to call us,” she said. “I’d love it if we could somehow help those families earlier to do better prevention so they never get to our door.”
Juvenile Services is as an important advocacy tool to keep kids home with their families and out in their communities. In most cases, the evidence shows it’s the best tool in rehabilitation, Friesen said.
“By the time they hit our door, (kids) are at a crossroads,” Friesen said. “They can keep doing what they’re doing and end up in the adult system, or they can get it together.”
Friesen said the key to a kid’s ability to “get it together” lies in their resiliency. The more parents and the community are involved with the kids, the more they feel valued.
“When they think nobody cares, it doesn’t matter what they do,” she said. “But we care here, and we want them to do the right thing.”
Leia Larsen can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603.