The 4th Judicial District Court in Colorado Springs, along with 16 other courts around the country, will take part in a national juvenile justice project that aims to address delinquency and truancy.
Fourth Judicial District Magistrate Jessica Curtis said the project, which will kick off in early 2014, is an innovative approach by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges to assess a district's resources, recommend improvements and provide training to create new projects.
"This program presents an excellent opportunity to capitalize on the collaborations of agencies in our community in regards to juvenile courts," Curtis said. "There's great energy in our community right now with issues related to truancy, delinquency and school-based misbehavior that come into our juvenile delinquency system."
Debbie English, executive director of Teen Court - one of many partners in the project - said kids who are most likely to get in trouble are those who are not in school.
"One of the goals of the juvenile justice project is to focus on truancy as an indicator of issues at school or at home that could be steering kids in the wrong direction," English said.
Teen Court and the justice project's approach is to put minors through mentorship programs instead of arresting them, and employing peer-to-peer counseling groups to reach kids who could be at risk of committing crimes.
"We work with the schools when they get into fights, we take them through mediations between students, trying to get them to understand how lucky they are not to get a ticket and a criminal record," English said.
As the project kicks off, the national council will assign a facilitator to the 4th Judicial District in Colorado Springs to review existing programs and committees and recommend what should be kept, improved or cast aside.
"One of the most exciting parts of this project is that we will have an evidence-based framework of what can we do to improve and serve our families better," Curtis said. "When the project concludes in 2015, we will have a strong foundation of skills and tools to create and implement projects that will help us keep kids in school, out of the criminal system and that will enable us to identify the minors who need help the most."
Colorado Springs police Commander Fletcher Howard said the juvenile justice project is an innovative approach to a longtime goal of keeping kids engaged in school and out of trouble.
"We want to make an impact in their lives without giving them a criminal record," Howard said.
Howard explained that a popular belief that juvenile criminal records don't stick for life, or that they can't be accessed in the future is a huge misconception. Minors who rack up criminal activity on their record, or who end up serving time in correctional facilities often have complications later in life.
"As hard as it is to make a living nowadays, these kids who wind up having a criminal record and doing jail time, they're handicapping themselves in the future to get jobs, further their education, even have families," Howard said. "As an agency, our main objective is to deter them from those circumstances and play a positive role."