Sep. 11-XENIA - In the 1990s, Ohio had 11 full-size juvenile correctional facilities. Today, there are 400 kids and only three facilities left, according to Ohio department of Youth Services Director Ryan Gies.
One of the reasons is because of work on the local level by centers like the Greene County Juvenile Court Assessment and Intervention Center in Xenia.
Gov. Mike DeWine spoke to local lawmakers and community members Friday at the new Xenia facility, recognizing local efforts to de-institutionalize children in the juvenile court system, treat mental health problems, and teach life skills to at-risk kids.
The center is part of the county's commitment to the Ohio Department of Youth Services' Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI). Formed in 1992, the program has expanded to 300 counties nationwide. Greene County joined the system in 2017, establishing a network of community partners to divert children away from the juvenile justice system and detainment.
The county's Assessment Center screens children for abuse and neglect, mental health problems, risk of falling into criminal behavior or exposure to human trafficking.
Greene County Juvenile Court Judge Amy Lewis gave opening remarks for the event.
"The most important judge in the county, I think, is the juvenile court judge," DeWine said. "They are dealing with young people, young people at a very important time in their life, a time when frankly you have a better chance of getting a better outcome than you do later on."
Since the 1990s, the program has diverted thousands of kids from correctional facilities, and shut many of those facilities down. Ohio had 15,000 children adjudicated as felons in the '90s, Gies said. That number has plummeted by 75% to around 3,900.
The success of such programs, DeWine said, is because of the efforts of local jurisdictions.
"I've been in government and politics a long time," DeWine said. "And the longer I'm in it, the more I'm convinced that local is better."
"If we can deal with our problems at the local level...if the state does what it needs to do but lets local judges make the decision, we are a lot better off than housing these kids throughout the state in state institutions," DeWine continued.
The courts work with several community resources, including the Family Violence Prevention Center, Miami Valley Juvenile Rehabilitation Center, and Greene County CASA, to help at-risk children.