0
Votes

Juvenile Crime's Revolving Door

Juvenile justice staff bring about 'change.'

Bluemont resident Mark Crowley remembers how an adolescent mind works, something he finds useful in probation work.

"It's a different way of thinking. To be able to understand helps in order to respond," said Crowley, the director of court services for the Department of Juvenile Justice and a 33-year probation employee with 29 years of service in Loudoun County.

The court services unit aims to help juveniles "make that step from immature, impulsive behavior to more responsible adult behavior," Crowley said, adding, "Catching that teachable moment is such a challenge."

Crowley expects one in 10 juveniles who engage in and experiment with illegal activities and who are apprehended and placed on probation to return a second time. That is because the staff of the Department of Juvenile Justice successfully reaches the other nine, those who might have made a one-time mistake or a poor decision.

"I like to impact people's lives. I like to see the human side of the law. I like to see people change," Crowley said.

To bring about the change, the Department of Juvenile Justice serves as the professional service arm of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court for juveniles under the age of 18, along with domestic relations cases. With a staff of 28 employees, the department provides intake services, probationary services and special programs, including community service work, restitution, anger management and substance abuse treatment.

INTAKE PROVIDES the entry point to the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court system. Intake officers work with incoming juveniles charged with criminal complaints by receiving and processing their case information. They have the discretionary power to divert cases from the judicial process, forward them to the court or require unofficial services, such as counseling or program completion.

"We call it diversion, a situation that could go to court but with a little intervention, maybe the matter could be resolved without being formally adjudicated," Crowley said. "We act as an intermediary. We give advice, counsel and referrals. Some people refer to us as the juvenile magistrate."

"It's recognizing the needs of the children and holding them accountable for their behavior," said Tara Surber Fedis, intake officer. "We have a lot to offer the public. We're just not the place where kids get locked up."

Most of the complaints the court services unit handles involve property, substance abuse, larceny and shoplifting offenses, the majority occurring in the spring and fall at the start and end of the school year.

"The good news is serious felonies are not our major offense," Crowley said. "Loudoun is intolerant of crime. ... As a result, what crime there is is vigorously prosecuted."

THE PROBATION side comes in if, after court proceedings, the juveniles are placed under supervisory care. Twelve probation officers work at the juvenile justice department to lay down and enforce probation rules and to monitor the juveniles for an average of one year. They supervise compliance of court orders and of probation rules, including school attendance and curfews.

"As a general rule, each probation officer needs to be good at holding people accountable," Crowley said.

Probation officers may take a Rogerian, lecturing approach and tell the juveniles exactly what they need to do and when, or they may provide directive counseling to guide them through their decisions.

As they work with juveniles, the officers take on several roles, that of police officers, teachers, coaches, social workers and psychologists. "You have to be able to use all these skills depending on the situation. You have to like kids and people," Crowley said. "I'm convinced many kids change because they're impacted by that personal relationship."

Probation officer David Carver admits changes can be made when the juveniles are confined to their homes and required to follow a pattern of going to school and staying home at other times. The juveniles are put under an electronic monitoring program for secure detention in their own homes or placed on house arrest through outreach supervision, which follows the same rules and limitations of electronic monitoring but without the ankle bracelet and portable tracking device. In both cases, Carver and his partner meet with the juveniles four times a week to make sure they are at school and where they need to be.

"They learn we're not just there to lock them up and be the bad guy. We can be the gateway," said Carver, who works in the Electronic Monitoring and Outreach Supervision Program.

Ten percent of juveniles needing probation and other services do return a second and maybe additional times. "You have to be more creative, vigilant with those individuals," Crowley said, adding that the staff tries not to label the juveniles too early. "It's an art, not a science. You really can't tell which youngster will victimize someone else."