Questions/demands for juvenile detention center in Bloomington

October 14th, 2008  |  Published in Bloomington

This is a sketch of my thoughts on the at-this-time-ambiguous proposal for a juvenile detention center in Monroe County in preparation for the public meeting about this on Thursday.  I’ve organized my thoughts in terms of questions and demands.

QUESTION: Is building our own facility the best way to keep our youth close to their families and communities?  I think that there is a community consensus that we want to keep youth from being sent out of the county for incarceration and that we want to make sure that youth who enter the juvenile justice system get the support that they need to have agency in their lives and to avoid further incarceration.  I question whether incarcerating youth  in the county is the best way to do this.  I believe that if we set the right goals as a community; collectively engage youth, families, the schools, and the community-at-large; develop programs and a culture that empowers and supports youth (even those facing challenges with mental health, addiction, and poverty) we can eliminate youth entering the justice system altogether and not just keep them incarcerated in their community, but have them be recognized as the leaders and contributors that so many have the potential to be (and already are).

DEMAND: The Monroe County community needs to discuss a concrete proposal for a juvenile center, not agree that we will build one and then debate what it will look like.

DEMAND: We  need to include youth, particularly youth who have been in the juvenile justce system in the planning and decision making.  They are experts about the system and what has worked or failed or been deeply problematic with other facilities.

DEMAND: Just because we’re proposing building a center in Monroe County doesn’t mean it will automatically avoid the problems of other facilities.  We need to first understand why there were failures or abuses at other facilities and concretely explain how Monroe County would be able to avoid them.  Our track record with the jail has been less than stellar and we must be able to demonstrate a commitment to youth of the county that does far better before we even talk about building a youth facility.

DEMAND: The Youth Services Bureau (YSB) should not be on the same site or share staff with a juvenile detention center.  The YSB already has the difficult role of being both a refuge for youth escaping violence or homelessness and youth who are sent their as a disciplinary measure.  The YSB needs to have a strong, separate identity from the juvenile justice system.  Even now, the perception that the YSB is a punitive space makes some youth seeking safer spaces avoid using the YSB’s resources.

DEMAND: A youth facility will not take youth from distant counties.  One of the reasons for building a facility in this county that has been most vocally expressed has been the issue of sending youth far away from their families and communities.  Doing this to youth from other counties only displaces the problem, it doesn’t solve it.

QUESTION: What kind of treatment programs will te facility offer?  Who will provide them?

QUESTION:  Why are we tying up programming with the juvenile justice system?  Many of the programs that have been alluded to do not exist for youth in Monroe County, period.  For instance, a high-quality, empowerment-modeled,  substance abuse program that is partially developed by youth and that is accessible for low-income youth does not exist in the county.  This is something that would be of great use to youth both inside and outside of the juvenile justice system.  By making it only available to incarcerated youth, we are reinforcing the idea that such programs are about punishment instead of healing and empowerment.

QUESTION: Why are youth being sent out of the county to be incarcerated?  We need to know why this is happening so we can fully explore our options.  For instance, are youth being sent to facilities for serious drug addiction issues, or have they just gotten caught using drugs in a way that is prevelent with youth as a whole?  In the latter case, this speaks more to the need to cultivate cultural alternatives to drug use in our community than to incarcerated youth.  Are they being sent away for the sale of drugs?  This speaks more to changing the economic reality and employment prospects for youth than for further incarceration.