By Nadin Abbott
August 29, 2013 (Santee) – During the recent forum on child safety held in Santee, Deputy District Attorney Lisa Weinreb and Lisa J. Sawin, Department of Probation Director, spoke on what happens when a child enters the juvenile justice system.
According to Weinreb, the first step after a child enters the system is for officials to take a close look at the cases. “Police Departments have diversionary programs which try to prevent a crime,” she said. These programs range from gang units, drug units, and even diversion to different county services.
There are three aspects to looking at cases: the best interests of the minor, societal safety, and victim restitution.
Children who are not a real threat and have committed low level misdemeanors are sent straight to the Probation Department, where they are assessed, and through programs and other services, are ideally diverted from full entry into the system.
“If they have committed felonies, or multiple misdemeanors, we see about filing criminal charges,” Weinreb said. “This moves the case into the juvenile criminal system.”
The child may be assigned to custodial services, such as Juvenile Hall, or to other programs, including house arrest. The ultimate goal is to prevent repeat offenders and redirect the child into a productive adult life.
Some crimes committed by juveniles are so serious that they will be tried as adults, and that is a decision made by the District Attorney.
Weinreb also emphasized that when she is involved, she sees children and families that at times need deep intervention.
Sawin observed, “Probation comes at the tail end.” She emphasized, “Our mission is to protect the community.” To do this takes a balanced approach.
The goal is to deal with youth, at times facing confinement. The goal is for rehabilitation, change, and to reduce recidivism.
When youth first come in contact with probation, the probation officer first has an extensive intake interview. This is to determine what types of interventions are necessary. Youths are treated individually, and even when they have committed the same exact offense, the path taken with each youth is likely very different.
One of the tools probation officers use is creating contracts for how kids will behave. There are also several types of residency programs as well as drug treatment programs. Programs are determined depending “on the youth’s risk level.”
Youths who pose more of a risk will require more services. Higher risk youth, depending on the offense, might be directed to the Gang Suppression Unit, drug residency programs, as well as a program for sex offenders.
Sawin mentioned that Probation at times does consultations that are available to the public. She also said that if you have prescription drugs at home that you need to get out of the house, every Sheriff’s Station has drop off boxes. All that is needed is for you to peel the label from the bottle.
Sawin emphasized Teen Watch, a program for young women who were drug abusers and are pregnant. The goal of the program is not only to make sure these future young mothers stay clean, but to make sure that their babies are born clean and healthy.