Kent Circuit Court To Initiate DMC Effort

September 6, 2007
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The Kent County 17th Circuit Court is starting a new intervention program next month that aims to turn some of the city’s young people away from a possible checkered future and toward a successful life path.

The Juvenile Success Center opens Oct. 1, and the program hopes to divert up to 60 troubled youths ages 13 to 16 from becoming formally involved with the court. The teens will be referred to the court by city police officials and, in turn, the court will refer the teens to the program. The effort is being funded by a federal grant of $125,000 a year for each of the next three years, money that has been awarded to the court from the state.

“This money has been available to address what they call a disproportionate minority contact, or DMC, not only in the juvenile justice system but in the complete criminal justice system. We’re getting it through the Bureau of Juvenile Justice, part of the Department of Human Services in Lansing,” said Jim Koetsier, deputy court administrator for the 17th Circuit Court.

“They have been encouraging counties to apply for this money, as it is available.”

Kent County commissioners recently accepted the grant dollars on behalf of the court. Commissioner James Vaughn, whose district is in Grand Rapids, said he hopes the program produces enough success stories so that a strong case can be made for its expansion. The court’s Family Division will receive the funds.

“We hope to have the program up on Oct. 1 of this year, and I stress that it is a pilot project,” said Koetsier.

By pilot project, Koetsier means the program’s target area only covers part of Grand Rapids — the southeast side — rather than the entire county. First-time offenders of misdemeanor crimes will be referred to the program as an alternative to appearing before the court.

Each teen will be assigned a success coach, as the program’s advisors are called, and that coach will try to steer the young person toward a better life path by focusing on personal and academic growth. Parents and guardians will also participate in the pilot program.

“The program will address all kids from that area regardless of race. But we do know that the majority of them are going to be minority kids,” said Koetsier.

“The success coach is a paid position. We aren’t going out and getting college students as interns. There are three paid positions in the grant application.”

Although the Juvenile Success Center will run on a yearly basis from October through September, the coaching will be done on a quarterly calendar. Fifteen teens will receive guidance for three months, and then the next 15 will be admitted into the program for another three-month session until 60 are coached over the course of a year.

“These cases will not even go in front of any of the judges. They are going to be handled at the front end of the court. The intake supervisor of the court will identify them and send them to the Juvenile Success Center,” said Koetsier.

Is $125,000 enough to fund the program for a year? Koetsier didn’t think so. But because the program plans to work with 15 teens each quarter, instead of all 60 kids for the whole year, he felt the funds could cover a good portion of the cost. The circuit court will enter into a contractual agreement with the center, and Michael Daniels will oversee operations at the center.

A steering committee made up of community leaders and circuit court staff members will direct the program. Pine Rest Christian Services, the Institute for Systematic Change, Grand Valley State University, Cascade Engineering, the Grand Rapids African-American Roundtable, Brown-Hutcherson Ministries and Kent County Juvenile Detention are involved with the effort, as is the city police department.

Koetsier said it wasn’t unusual for the court and its family division to take on what could prove to be a difficult task with the new program. After all, he said, the court has already created a treatment program for adolescent sex offenders, a special advocate program to work with neglected and abused children, a juvenile probation program, and a crisis intervention program for families with teens.

“We handle all the juvenile delinquency matters, and we have several other diversion programs that have been going on for a long period of time — kids that shoplift, kids that are involved in minor possession of alcohol. So to develop a new diversion program is not different to us. We’ve done it in the past,” he said.

“But this is more focused on the whole initiative, even at the federal level, of addressing disproportionate minority contact with the criminal justice system.” LQX

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