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Task force studies Iowa’s juvenile detention centers
Officials from the Iowa Juvenile Detention Association painted a rosy picture of Iowaâ€™s 11 juvenile detention centers for members of Gov. Chet Culverâ€™s Youth Race and Detention Task Force.
But, officials said they couldnâ€™t explain why a disproportionate number of their detainees are minorities â€“ at a time when the number of youth overall in the facilities appears to be decreasing.
Third District Associate Court Judge Todd Hensley from Sioux City, one of about 25 members of the task force who met Thursday at Iowa Workforce Development, asked the officials for insights into why the numbers arenâ€™t decreasing for minorities.
â€œIt hasnâ€™t changed,â€ said Scott Reed, program administrator for the Polk County Juvenile Detention Center in Des Moines.
â€œThe minority issue is huge,â€ he added. â€œIt needs more discussion.â€
The task force, which was created last year, is studying the racial disparities in the juvenile justice system and will make recommendations to Culver in 2009. The 40-member group includes judges, juvenile court officers, child advocates and others.
Between 40 and 50 percent of the youth detained in Polk County belong to a minority group, Reed said. The facility, which is staffed to house 33 youth, had a 35 percent recidivism rate from July 2007 through June 2008, he said.
Reed, who is also vice president of the Iowa Juvenile Detention Association, said more alternatives to detention are needed before a youth is sent to a detention center. The centers donâ€™t have a big impact on who is detained because courts order youth for detention, Reed said.
The stateâ€™s facilities, which are comprised of county facilities and regional facilities that serve multiple counties, are staffed to serve about 240 youth, but the facilities can hold more youth, officials said. Officials also expressed concerns about potential closures of regional centers that serve multiple counties.
Detention centers provide a range of services, including multiple health assessments and year round classrooms. The facilities also provide a long list of other services, such as suicide assessments, dental screenings and religious services. Officials said they deal with a few suicide attempts from youth and are quick to monitor youth who exhibit signs they may harm themselves.
â€œUnlike most states, we do not just lock up our youth,â€ Reed said. â€œWe take an opportunity to teach.â€
Staff talk with youth about their behaviors and try to ward off problems, he said. In severe instances, some youth must be physically restrained, he said. Reed said there were 41 physical restraints last year in Polk County, which had decreased from previous years. He did not provide comparative data. He attributed the drop to improved training techniques.
Reed said the public has some misperceptions about detention centers. He said more discussion is necessary about what to do with youth if detention isnâ€™t an option, such as â€œin-home detention.â€
â€œWeâ€™re not a jail and a lot of people perceive us in that way,â€ he said. â€œWe provide a whole slate of services.â€
The task force also has created a committee that is gearing up to write the comprehensive report that is due next year to Culverâ€™s office.