The Village Network opens Reception Center for youth in ColumbusSeptember 24, 2013
New reception center offers alternative for some young offenders
A reception center opening soon aims to keep hundreds of Franklin County minors out of the Juvenile Detention Center each year.
The idea is to prevent low- and moderate-risk juveniles who have been arrested - but who don't pose a safety threat to the community - from being taken to a place that can decrease their chances of success.
"We're not trying to get them out of anything that they've gotten themselves into," said Sarah Book of the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County. "But what we're starting to learn is that the heavy hand is not necessarily deterring them."
Book said research shows that kids or teens who are detained in a juvenile correction center even once are more likely to be found guilty, to be incarcerated, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to drop out of school.
"There's a body of research that shows it's not a good thing," she said of detention.
The ADAMH board and Franklin County Juvenile Court contracted with the Village Network, a youth-services agency with a campus at 1751 E. Long St. on the East Side to develop and operate the reception center. The Columbus Police Division also is a partner in the project.
Village Network is being paid up to $598,000 for a one-year contract and expects to handle about 1,000 youths a year. Reception-center candidates are juveniles who have been arrested and, after an on-site assessment by law-enforcement and juvenile-court personnel - often working together by phone or computer - are found not to be a high risk for violence.
Typically, many of the youths who are arrested in the city are first taken to the detention center and an assessment is done there.
Subha Lembach, director of the county's Juvenile Justice Community Planning Initiative, said the primary goal of the reception-center model is to link families and children to programs and services "as soon as possible."
Instead of waiting until their court case is resolved, she said, they can receive mental-health and other evaluations right away at the reception center.
Last year, 2,327 juveniles were taken to the county Juvenile Detention Center and of those, Lembach said, 1,510 were detained. The numbers include some juveniles who might have been held more than once.
Officials say the reception center also will reduce the number of juveniles who linger unnecessarily in detention. "We do have kids in the detention center who may not score high-risk, but who are being held, if you will, because we cannot find a parent who is willing or able to pick them up," Lembach said.
Susie Parr, the Columbus-based regional director for Village Network, said the agency will turn to its specialized foster homes to provide temporary shelter for juveniles in cases where parents don't come to the reception center.
The reception center should save taxpayers money, Book said, because detention is far more expensive.
Village Network already works on various diversion programs, Parr said. The reception center, which plans two open houses next week before its official opening on Sept. 16, is an opportunity to intercede even earlier.
"We like working with this group," she said. "It sounds strange, but it's our love. We see change - see kids leading good, safe lives."