Fewer kids being held in Arizona juvenile detention centers

Posted at 4:18 PM, Jul 09, 2017

The halls of the Pinal County Juvenile Detention Center were quiet and empty during a recent visit.

That's partly because the county in southern Arizona has transformed the way it deals with juveniles, starting with how it decides whether to detain a juvenile through a prescreening process aimed at determining whether the teen is a threat to the community.

The center has released a few more juveniles than it has detained over the last fiscal year, the Casa Grande Dispatch reported last week. Data from the county show that the center prescreened and released 359 juveniles in its 2016 fiscal year. It detained 331.

That is a major difference from the center's 2011 and 2012 fiscal year when it detained 100 percent of the juveniles.

The center is taking a different approach toward keeping youth accountable for their actions, said Denise Smith, director of Pinal County's Juvenile Court Services.

The center's staff is using a prescreening chart that determines the juvenile's level of threat to the community. A juvenile's score is impacted by substance abuse or infrequent school attendance.

Those with high scores are being detained, while those with lower scores are released until a court rules on the sentencing. A murder charge automatically detains a child, according to the report.

Research has shown that incarceration does not always have the intended impact on youths and mostly elevates a child's trauma.

A 2013 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that juvenile incarceration increases the likelihood of adult incarceration by 22 percent and decreases the child's chances of graduating high school by 13 percent.

There is also a push to move away from criminalizing typical teenage behavior such as breaking curfew, which could have labeled a teen as a probation violator in the past, said Celena Angstead, Pinal County juvenile intervention services manager.


There are eight Arizona counties following juvenile detention alternative initiative models, said Joe Kelroy with Arizona's Administrative Office of Courts. The goal for all 15 counties to get on board.