Helping Our Kids Through the Process

Last summer, Bev Newman promised to expand youth programs if the county and courts would help keep the Johnson County Juvenile Detention Center open.

The county-owned Justice Center has its juvenile offices and detention center in the basement.

The problem was that state funding was cut for three employees at the detention center at the end of last year. That meant the county faced closing the facility and sending kids to Harrisonville about an hour southwest of Warrensburg.

The cost and liability to drive kids that far, plus the fact that parents would be less likely to drive to see their kids that far away, didn’t make sense.

Newman, the chief detention officer, lived up to her promise. The financing shortfall was bridged through the county budget and fees the 17th Judicial Circuit will collect by taking in youth from Pettis County after its juvenile detention center closed.

It was a close call – one that Newman said made everyone work a little harder while keeping a clear end goal in mind – helping the kids.

“The fact is it helped us sort of move things to a higher plane and a better place,” she said. “It’s going to make us do a better job overall.”

Newman announced Thursday that she’s using grant money to start a youth court program and a handful of other educational programs here in Johnson County. This is in addition to the many programs already in place to help get kids back on the right track.

Meanwhile, a group of law, faith and health officials called the Juvenile Justice Collaboration are close to finalizing a database of organizations and programs available to kids in the 17th Judicial Circuit (Johnson and Cass counties).

The idea is to make the database widely available so parents, counselors, schools and others know how to get kids involved in everything from drug and alcohol prevention programs to scouting.

Overall, it’s reassuring to know there are caring people like Newman out there. She’s a great advocate for our children, and she’s quick to praise her team of professionals for helping to organize new programs.

Youth court sounds like a good one. Kids ages 12 to 19 will serve every role in the courtroom, from bailiff to judge and defense attorney to prosecutor. Newman said Cass County’s youth court is going strong with support from 12 local attorneys who give advice and answer questions if the kids get in a bind.

The program is for low-risk, first-time offenders. The more serious crimes would still be handled through the regular system. Sentences in youth court range from community service to restitution or even curfew.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for people in our community and the kids to learn about our justice system,” Newman said.

Other new programs would teach kids the cost and consequences of shoplifting, the importance of self-respect and how to manage anger.

“It’s OK to get angry, but how you act when you get angry is what we have to address with kids,” Newman said.

There are life skills classes and traditional tutoring sessions, along with drug and alcohol intervention, fire safety classes and victim impact classes. Some kids learn accountability by writing letters of apology to their victims.

Kids get in trouble. It’s a fact of life. They do stupid stuff, but like Newman said, it’s not enough to tell kids something is bad or wrong. We have to help them through the process.

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