Wednesday, January 21, 2004

We're not so bad; Oh yes you are

The Plain Dealer published two letters to the editor regarding the recent article on excessive continuances in the local Juvenile Court (which I discussed here).

The Juvenile Court's Administrative Judge, Joseph Russo makes the same point I did initially--the PD relied on old data without trying to gather any new information regarding how the court does business today. Judge Russo of course has the luxury of getting the current data much more easily than the media, but still I have to wonder if the PD reporter was just to lazy to ask for more recent stats. According Judge Russo, the Juvenile Court has made remarkable strides since the study cited in the original article. He states: "as of Jan. 9, averages just 49 days to process a delinquency or unruliness case from start to finish." The Supreme Court recommends no more than 3 months for unruly cases and no more than 6 months. The CWRU study indicated that " judges could finish cases within 43 days," although as of the December 31, 2001 the Juvenile Court averaged "approximately 112 days to process a [delinquency or unruly] case."

So if the Juvenile Court's numbers are accurate, they have slashed the time spent on these cases by more than half. I have to concede that this change is impressive.

Judge Russo goes on to cite on-going efforts at change: The Juvenile Court has implemented changes suggested by the Ohio Auditor's Office and has created a new risk management tool for detention center admissions. And the Judge ends with a zinger: "Clearly, the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court has and will continue to seek consultation and advice from recognized experts, as warranted, to better accomplish our important mission. The point is, we do strive to discern and to adopt best-practice recommendations - not just any recommendations that come to our attention. "

I'm thrilled that the Cuyahoga Juvenile Court has improved its practices. I tend to be cynical about such things and I remain concerned about the issues raised in my previous post. I hope this trend continues, but perhaps since these changes appear to have occurred exclusively during Judge Russo's tenure as the Juvenile Court's Administrative Judge, I worry what would happen if someone else became Administrative Judge (these elections occur within the court annually).

The second letter was written by Kristen Sweeney, who is described as a candidate for the Juvenile Court (three of the Juvenile Court's six seats are on the ballot this year). Ms Sweeney comments don't add to the discussion much, except to say, essentially, "yeah, what the PD said!"

Her main point seems to be that the Detention Center is not intended for long term
treatment of juveniles post disposition (disposition is the Juvenile equivalent of sentencing). While I would agree that the Detention Center is not capable of treatment, I am not certain that juveniles receive much in the way of effective treatment at either ODYS and YDC due to recent cutbacks in state and county budgets. I assume that Ms Sweeney's advocacy will include funding for appropriate treatments to rehabilitate juveniles. (Is it too much to ask that a candidate have actual ideas for improving a system? Well if the incumbents don't have any solid ideas, I guess I shouldn't expect an outsider to have them.)

Additionally, Ohio law now allows juveniles to be committed to the detention center instead of ODYS or YDC when appropriate. This change does not justify any past or current Juvenile Court practice which allows the judges and magistrates to let a juvenile languish in detention. However, I certainly hope that Ms. Sweeney will become more familiar with Juvenile Law if she joins the bench at the Court.

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