‘Lighthouse Project’ aims to keep children out of the justice system | Western Colorado
During the COVID-19 pandemic, District Attorney Dan Rubinstein realized: A chance is missing to remove children from the juvenile justice system before they start committing crimes.
Rubinstein and his wife, Stephanie, a former magistrate who now works as a business lawyer, were hiking the Palisade Rim Trail in June 2020 when she told him the children were entering the juvenile diversion program at the office of the prosecutor two years too late.
Stephanie Rubinstein said when she was an investigating judge she would see many of the same families and many of the same people. Later, she would start to see them in the newspaper for getting into trouble. She developed the feeling that the truancy system itself was not working. The justice system costs parents dear and makes it difficult to find solutions, she said.
Part of the frustration, Stephanie said, was that the children were missing school enough to feel like they had no chance of catching up with their classmates or what was expected of them.
âThen they have nothing to do but get in trouble,â she said.
Stephanie said she always tries to think outside the box to get kids interested in school, but nothing worked.
“I’m a parent, and I know bored kids, kids who have nothing to do, that’s where the problems lie,” she said.
âIf you want to stop minors from committing crimes, do them before they start dropping out of school,â Dan said.
The idea is to run the diversion program alongside the suspension and expulsion programs at Mesa County Valley School District 51.
The two departments are currently moving into a new space on the Colorado Mesa University campus.
The program, dubbed the âFlagship Project,â will start by identifying children considered to be at high risk of entering the justice system, and provide them with the diversion of resources normally provided to children who are already in the system, Dan explained.
These resources include advice, tutoring, mentoring, and experiences such as campus tours, Dan said.
At this point, Colorado Mesa University is working to identify students on its campus who are good candidates to mentor D51 children, using federal education and work dollars to pay the students. CMU for their work.
âIt could completely change what the process looks like on the children’s side,â said Stephanie.
The justice system is not efficient for minors, said StÃ©phanie, it costs parents dearly and makes it difficult to find resolutions. In addition, the justice system catches children too late for them to catch up.
âSometimes it seems like there’s a feeling of ‘all these kids have to be on the same path’, and that’s just not the case,â Stephanie said.
DA’s juvenile diversion program takes children accused of crimes from the juvenile justice system and integrates restorative justice services and practices faster than the formal court process, according to the DA’s website.
A diversion contract is established with the youth, parents and the diversion coordinator, which usually includes things like school attendance, employment or participation in an extracurricular activity, curfew, payment of fees, public service, restorative justice and the payment of restitution if necessary, according to the site.
The program may also include things like drug and alcohol screenings, mediation, mental health assessment, anger management, substance abuse treatment, bereavement counseling, and one-on-one counseling. and family.
If the contract is fulfilled, the case is deleted from the child’s file. If the contract is not performed, the case may be taken to court for formal prosecution.
Currently, the prosecutor’s office monitors the diversion of children after they have committed a crime, according to diversion coordinator Jacque Berry.
That part is not going to change, Rubinstein said.
Children who are in the juvenile diversion system are there for many different reasons, Dan noted, from petty drug problems to property crimes.
âA lot of times the offense isn’t really the underlying problem, and that’s what we want to find out,â he said.
These problems can be lack of supervision, addiction or something else and these problems require different levels of services to be alleviated.
The goal of the Lighthouse Project is to identify children earlier, if they are, say, absent from school or the child welfare system.
Berry said the diversion program has identified 16 variables that affect out-of-school children and that by using these they can identify children who might be having attendance issues and contact their families. in person to see if they can help them.
âI hope families realize that we are here to help and support, not to judge and condemn,â Berry said.
Now that the DA’s office and the D51 share space, they can correspond and share resources, although one of the tricky parts is how sharing sensitive or protected information might work, Berry said.
âWe’re going to be under one roof and supporting each other as we move forward, so that will be good,â Berry said.
One of the things that will be beneficial from D51’s perspective is having access to diversion program resources such as classes and family system resources, said Cathy Ebel, director of social / emotional learning and behavioral support.
âA lot of our families are constantly looking for resources to help their children, so that would be great for us,â Ebel said.
Ebel said she was excited about a closer collaboration with diversion, as the programs share many children.
Ebel also said she was excited about the preventive nature of the program, which allows children who are not necessarily involved in the services of the justice system to keep them out of the justice system.
âIt gives us a whole new battery of support to keep them out of the justice system,â Ebel said.
Children who are kicked out either have a substance problem or anger problem, or they just don’t do well in school, with behaviors such as insubordination, Ebel said.
These things need support for them, to help them be successful when they go back to school or into the workforce.
However, all of this will not happen overnight.
âOnce we get comfortable and get settled in space, we’ll start slowly,â Rubinstein said.
In order for the program to be successful, according to Berry, there are a few things that need to be addressed.
Berry cited families feeling comfortable getting support, having fewer children going through the juvenile justice system, higher attendance and graduation rates, less substance abuse, a community effort helping children and dealing with family systems issues through community support as potential indicators of success.
It’s going to take a lot of work, however.
âI can see we’re very busy, which is fine with me,â Berry said.
Another advantage of combining resources is that it gives both departments more flexibility in handling cases, which is necessary when working with individuals.
âThere isn’t one family that is the same, they all have unique backgrounds and cultures,â said Berry.
âIt’s prevention and intervention, intertwined depending on the flavor of the child,â Ebel said.
Ebel said she was thrilled that the CMU mentoring program was getting started as D51’s volunteer base does not reflect the demographics of the children in the program, and it would be best if the children were mentored by people who are like them and have a similar background.
âIt’s hard to see their future historyâ when they don’t have role models that look like them, Ebel said. Hopefully, she said they will be able to see a bigger world than the one they are exposed to and help them realize a future.
âIt’s just going to make all the difference in the world, to help our children in a meaningful way,â Ebel said.
âIt seems like such an obvious way to get kids interested in education productively and that’s what turns me on the most,â said Stephanie Rubinstein.
One theme that has come up time and time again in conversations about the Lighthouse Project is that of prevention.
âA lot of what we’re seeing not just in Colorado, but across the country, concerns the pre-emptive front-end,â Berry said. âKeeping kids out of the justice system and out of school, and I think that’s the right direction. “
Ebel credited the prosecutor’s office with moving in this direction.
âI think it’s fabulous that our district attorney’s office, which isn’t prevention quite frankly, is focusing on that,â Ebel said.
âIf my job goes beyond prosecuting crimes, to making the community safer, why not do it? Dan Rubinstein said. “Why sit there and find out which kids are going to come to the criminal justice system and do nothing about it?” “