Jailing troubled youth may worsen situation, Carson City speaker says

Robert Kinscherff helped lead training in spotting warning signs among youth.

Robert Kinscherff helped lead training in spotting warning signs among youth.

In light of a nationwide rise in school violence, the Carson City Juvenile Probation Services hosted a training so local agencies have more tools, resources and connections to help prevent a tragedy.

Agencies from all over Nevada were in Carson for the two-day training to learn about how to identify a problematic juvenile before it rises to the level of violence as well as how to work together to mitigate time spent in detention centers, provide resources for the juvenile in and out of the system and discuss new ideas to keep progressing in how to best serve those in the juvenile justice system.

“There has been an increase in school violence in the nation and Carson City isn’t exempt from that, so we want to take the precautions to train our officers and the community to prevent it,” said Chief of Juvenile Probation Ali Banister.

The two-day training featured Robert Kinscherff, a forensic psychologist and attorney who has spent three decades working in child protection, juvenile justice, forensic mental health and Juvenile Court systems.

“We saw an increase in our detention population and an increase in gun-related charges and we wanted to make sure we are all following the best practices in line with that,” said Deputy Chief of Juvenile Probation Linda Lawlor.

The purpose of the training was to learn how to identify, assess and appropriately intervene with dangerous youth in the community.

On the first day of the training, more than 100 people from social workers, school district officials, psychologists, youth camps and law enforcement officers gathered in the Capitol Building to listen to Kinscherff speak. There were agencies from Carson, Lyon, Douglas, Churchill, Washoe and Humboldt counties.

“We want that community awareness so we are all on the same page when we try to work together and tackle this problem,” Lawlor said. “We hope to have partnerships come out of this to work as a team to keep violence out of our schools and keep it to the minimum length in the detention center.”

He spoke about the importance of factoring in adolescent neurodevelopment in the identification and assessment process.

“Understanding adolescent neurodevelopment helps hold the youth accountable for their behavior but in ways likely to be matched by development to get positive outcomes that we hope for with kids engaged in delinquent acts,” Kinscherff said. “It helps understand the poorly made decisions shaped by relative lack of life experience and tendency to act recklessly, failure to detect options for decisions and failure to recognize or appreciate consequences of their behavior.”

He said it’s important to consider neurodevelopment in order to best treat the delinquency as well as assess possible issues with the juvenile.

“It helps to think of what kinds of steps to take that will not inadvertently worsen or increase the risk posed to the community,” Kinscherff said.

One example he gave was how incarceration hinders the neurodevelopmental process and can do more harm than good in some cases.

“The use of detention or incarceration with adults increases recidivism, especially violent recidivism,” Kinscherff said. “So adolescents need to be taught a great deal with how the world works and long-term consequences of their actions on themselves and others. For example, adolescents are poor to apply risks to their own personal situation; almost all teens will tell you that you are safer wearing a seat belt, but frequently less teens will wear their seat belts than adults because they don’t consider the likelihood to be in a serious accident.”

Kinscherff said the solution of incarceration has been used for the last two decades in an attempt to make the communities safer, when in fact it has been shown in recent years it does just the opposite.

“It was an effort to stop the rising tide of juvenile crime and unfortunately ... it has negative consequences to them and their communities to which they return because they will be released some day,” Kinscherff said. “Punitive incarceration focused policies for juveniles has increased risk of recidivism which makes the community less safe.”

But, with community partners learning about these factors involved in juvenile delinquency, they can help foster a better outcome.

“Youth in the community will develop best, and the community will be best served if they partner with each other to best support positive development of youth that worry us,” Kinscherff said. “If you engage youth, even if they are committing crimes, in positive youth development you stabilize their lives but you also make the community safer.”

And that’s where the community partners come into play.

“It is better to be informed and understand their social and cognitive development to take steps with better outcomes for the youth and community of which they will live in as adults,” Kinscherff said.

He also spoke to just the regional Juvenile Probation Services to better discuss what each community looks like and what resources are involved.

For many of the services, it was vital to create community partnerships to provide resources outside of the justice system as well as discuss whether diversion is the correct pathway for handling juveniles.

One of the major takeaways was the idea of a sequential intercept model to create a collaboration to enact an assessment team for a juvenile.

“It needs to be spearheaded by the school district but also become a collaboration so if there is a threat than that assessment can take place to avoid a major crisis,” Banister said. “The team can go in and assess the juvenile and situation to determine if it is safe for them to stay in the community.”

This assessment helps so the juvenile can get resources and services more immediately before escalation.

“Partnership is important in Carson City because the school system has initial contact with the juvenile first and then may progress to juvenile services” Banister said. “But if we can alleviate the problem initially in the school then we can ultimately decrease issues with our youth in the schools.”

“It is a pathway to target violence and different agencies to work together and it gives us a better chance to intervene before it goes to that final act,” Lawlor added.

Part of the importance of this model is it helps as a diversionary tactic to keep the low-level offenders out of detention if necessary. In the United States, incarceration rates are five times higher than any other industrialized country and studies show 30 days or more in a detention center can reduce a juvenile’s likelihood of graduating by 50 percent, Lawlor said.

“Detaining kids for more time can cause more damage,” Lawlor said. “If we can keep that low level juvenile out of the juvenile justice system that leaves us to focus on those high level juveniles.”

Carson City opened the training to all of the surrounding counties, said Banister. Carson City Juvenile Probation Services and Juvenile Court were able to fund the training due to the importance of it.

“To bring someone with his expertise and perspective and to bring in new ideas (is important),” said Kimberly Okezie, juvenile Special Master. “In juvenile services we need to be constantly exploring what works and what doesn’t, not just with Juvenile Probation but with different agencies, stakeholders and families.”

Okezie said Kinscherff is also able to bring them programs and ideas that are working in jurisdictions across the country and that helps allow a fluidity in Nevada’s systems to continue to grow and evolve.

“It shows progress in Carson because we need to change with the juveniles and the families and what works as a whole because we want to serve the juvenile to help keep them from reoffending and not be in the system,” Okezie said. “(It is good to hear about) anything that is different ... we need constant education with psychology, brain development and every aspect of the juvenile.”

The training also helped bring the different jurisdictions together so they can all see and assess what each is doing for a better understanding and in turn a better service to the juveniles.

“This helps us know why each agency does what they do so that we can facilitate better,” Okezie said.


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