Albany County, armed with a newly formed Juvenile Services Board, is aiming to reform juvenile justice.
Criminal justice professionals, afterschool care providers, law enforcement and others involved are looking to reach out to youth before they ever enter the system, combat stigmas and reduce recidivism.
Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court of Wyoming Nancy Freudenthal, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Pete Gosar and Laramie Police Department Chief Dale Stalder discussed those efforts during a panel discussion Tuesday hosted by the Wyoming Afterschool Association.
“I see the failures of adults that give rise to crime,” Freudenthal said. “I’m a believer that youth crime is the failure of adults.”
While most who come before Freudenthal in federal court are adults, those defendants often have a history with law enforcement that started in their youth.
They likely could have benefited from proactive community measures, she said.
“I’d like to get a little bit farther upstream than the encounter with law enforcement or the suspicion of offense conduct or actual offense conduct,” Freudenthal said. “I think it’s too late, frankly, to wait for diversion. The next step when diversion fails is supervised probation and after that we’re into treatment and after that we’re into prison.”
The other members of the panel echoed these thoughts.
Gosar said the key to keeping youth on the right path is to show them more promising futures — ones they might not have previously considered a realistic option.
“For me, there is nothing more sad, more disappointing than wasted potential,” he said. “We have undoubtedly the cure for cancer that left school. Somebody left school early. We need to find a way to keep those people engaged.”
Freudenthal said she would like to erase the stigma of after school programs being only for “remedial” students when they should be viewed as positive opportunities for all youth. She said brochures in waiting rooms and other such efforts could introduce parents to options in a positive way.
When moderator John Freeman asked the room for ideas on quick, low-cost changes, members of the audience also addressed stigma and the issue of generational biases.
Chuck Kratz, Fremont County director of youth services, said this would require engaging parents who might have had negative experiences with law enforcement or with diversion programs themselves.
“Those people are not terribly interested in being involved in the school, with their kids getting involved in the school,” Kratz said. “That’s the last place they would want to be because of their experiences.”
Stalder said Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent’s efforts toward juvenile justice reform could help break the cycles of crime.
“She created a community juvenile services board … with the hope that when they came out of that diversion, when they came out of that support, they wouldn’t feel the need to jump back into the offending arenas that they came from to get into the mess,” Stalder said.
Even when situations develop beyond diversion into the probation, treatment and imprisonment Freudenthal said she hopes to avoid, Stalder said the system can help reduce recidivism.
“The County Attorney reviews every juvenile offender’s particular crime of the day or history and individualizes the path forward again with that hope of that offender coming out the back end clean of a record, also with some skills that will keep them from reoffending,” he said.