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Juvenile justice center woes remain; entities finalize memorandum

Feb 24, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

After more than a year of not having a juvenile detention center to work with, the Northern Arapaho Family Services Department finalized a memorandum of understanding with the Sweetwater County Detention Center.

DFS department director Clarence Thomas told members of the Wyoming Legislature's Select Committee on Tribal Relations on Jan. 6 that the agency has placed three individuals there so far but transporting them to and from has always been and will continue to be a problem.

"We will have to work around that," Thomas said.

The department currently is working with 30 juveniles. Thomas said the department is collaborating with other programs on the reservation and hopes to find more people who will commit and directly help the youths. The department continues to monitor and support the probation of a juvenile after he or she has committed a serious crime and is placed under probation.

The Fremont County jail served juveniles up until June 2012, when an increase in inmates and cost issues forced the jail to turn the juvenile section into an incarcerated women's facility. As a result, young individuals have had to travel to other centers around and outside of Wyoming.

Youth placement

Thomas said there are other services, such as the group homes, that are useful but need more staff training to deal with troubled youths who often have serious behavioral problems.

The need for that training has been overwhelming, said Aline Kitchin, the juvenile probation supervisor for the Northern Arapaho Tribe. She reported the program has 50 juveniles on probation, while 20 are on placement with DFS care.

Kitchin also said that jurisdictional problems arise when juveniles have arrest warrants from Lander or Riverton law enforcement, because they can't be arrested by that law enforcement if they are on the reservation. Likewise, tribal law enforcement can't transport the juvenile to Lander or Riverton with that warrant for the arrest. The juvenile would have to step off the reservation on their own will.

"We struggle with all these dynamics," Kitchin said.

When asked by committee co-chairman Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, if there has been an increase in juvenile interventions, both Thomas and Kitchin said yes.

Eastern Shoshone Business Council chairman Darwin St. Clair Jr. added that intoxicated juveniles also are difficult to place. He said some have to ride around with a police officer in their vehicle, and they are not allowed in a halfway house, which is similar to a group home.

There is hesitation in returning youths to their homes, Thomas said, because while they are intoxicated, they can be more dangerous to others or have health issues a parent may not know how to handle.

"I do not believe most parents have the ability to take care of that in their home," Thomas said.

Despite the options, a lack of resources leaves juveniles waiting for a place to get help.

"Without the detention center here, people are sort of scrambling to make things better," said Jennifer Neely, DFS juvenile probation manager.

A risk assessment done by a police officer helps determine where an individual can be placed. A hospital determines the level of alcohol intoxication, and someone must determine if a parent or DFS will get involved. The process changes if the youth is a first-time offender, has a longer record of offenses, or was cited on or off the reservation.

Prevention

Tribal departments and organizations also have helped form outlets for troubled youths or others interested in helping their community.

Thomas detailed the ESCAPE program to the committee and said dozens of teens and young adults are certified mentors or have signed up to receive training to help children on the reservation.

"Their focus is trying to help each other and be positive mentors," said Sunny Goggles, who is an adviser to the reservation's teen UNITY group. "We're trying to do as much prevention as we can and trying to cover a large area."

The discussion later centered on other forms of help that young people require.

Goggles suggested that collaboration and cooperation continue on the reservation and in surrounding areas.

"I know this is a hot button topic," he said. "And we still need to get our arms around it."

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