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Diversion Programs for Juveniles see Dramatic Increase in Use; D - KOAM TV 7

Diversion Programs for Juveniles see Dramatic Increase in Use; Detention Center Gets Remodel to Serve

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JOPLIN, MISSOURI - Diversion courts are making a big difference in the lives of juveniles in Jasper County. The diversion program has seen a sixteen hundred percent increase in use in its five years. It's part of a shift from  juvenile detention to diversion.

“I have to have my life together for him.” Ruth Gentile is a teen mom who comes to court once a week. Diversion court. She says, "My freshman  and sophomore year I was doing things I wasn't supposed to do and I was getting really bad grades and I was late to all my classes."  And she was smoking pot.

Diversion court kept Ruth out of juvenile detention.

Assigned a court liaison, she and other youth are getting services instead of sentences.

Jasper county chief juvenile officer Dana Sanders says, “What I've observed as instrumental, is the wrap around services and the constant communication.  These kids have a team of people that are working with them and holding them accountable."

Ruth agrees and says it has worked, “It's made a huge difference. I've been sober for over a year.  And my grades are good. I'm doing good in school. I haven't been truant."

The current juvenile detention center is being renovated to offer services like tutoring and mentoring and will be renamed the center. They're   turning its old cells into a library and a room for crafts. There will be cooking classes too. Old beds are being removed along with prison-like wall toilets. But there will still be respite rooms if a teen needs detaining and a safe place.

Diversion court participants meet weekly with the Judge Gayle Crane and the team.

Ruth says, "It makes such a difference cause they work with you one on one. They give you consequences if you mess up.  And the more you mess up, the deeper in the consequences you get. So I learned  right off the bat they're not messing around.  I need to do what I need to do."

The juvenile diversion court system has gone from just seven juveniles to more than one hundred twenty in a given school semester over the past five years. It went from one juvenile officer to two and a staff of four court liaisons.

Juvenile court administrator Kelly Sales says, “We still have a duty to protect the personal property of others. It's just while we're doing that we're providing services so that they don't repeat or re-offend."

And the program saves the county and state money if youth are kept out of the system known as Division of Youth Services..

Sales says, "It's about forty thousand dollars a year to send a kid to a DYS program. Whereas if we keep them here in our community, provide the service here, it's on average seven dollars a day which averages out to about three hundred dollars a year."

While putting youth on the right path. Ruth will now graduate in December.

She says, "I'm going to go college in January and get my RN or LPN and I'm gonna go from there. I think I'm gonna be successful."

Those juveniles who present a danger to themselves, property or others and need to be held overnight  are sent to a larger facility in Greene county.

Juvenile diversion is for youth from elementary through twelfth grade based on referrals.

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