Juvenile Justice practices build community for youth, connect them to opportunities

King County is committed to helping youth succeed. Through a variety of services, at-risk youth are given the tools needed to make healthy decisions and are surrounded by a community of adults dedicated to helping each individual make the changes needed to get their life back on track.

Understanding that each person faces different challenges, the county’s Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) provides two options as alternatives to secure detention: electronic home monitoring and group care.

“Our philosophy has always been placing youth out of detention and focusing on community education and success for the future,” said Dominique Porter, Community Corrections Placement Specialist.

Dominique started with King County in 1979 with the Department of Judicial Administration. She moved to the Youth Services division and has been with the program’s Juvenile Detention side within DAJD since 1999. Her role focuses on screening youth for which rehabilitative program is the best fit.

“I assess, screen and then place young people who are either in detention or going through the Juvenile Court on electronic home monitoring or group care,” she said.

Dominique explains that electronic monitoring is basically house arrest for young people who have a residence and parent or guardian to watch over them, while group care is a location where young people who are in detention, but don’t have a residence or family to stay with, can live. Deciding which option is better depends on a variety of factors.

“Every youth that comes into detention is assessed by myself or my two coworkers,” she said. “We look at the youth, the age, the offense description and any psychological or social information that we may be able to research.”

“Then we make a recommendation to the court as to whether or not we would be able to provide the supervision necessary for that youth if they are placed on electronic home monitoring or group care.”

Dominique and her workgroup take into account if this young person has been in the in the system before and review that reporting information. If necessary, brief interviews are held with the parent or guardian, the youth themselves and any other adults, like probation counselors. Depending on the child and relevant information needed, assessments can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a few hours.

For youth in electronic monitoring or group care, reintegrating into the community in a healthy, structured way is a top priority. Dominique explains that for some children who aren’t used to staying home, following rules, going to school, or complying with services the family is interested in, the house arrest through electronic monitoring gets that child back into the home and introduces them to a positive lifestyle.

“We want to connect them to the community and to services that are going to help them better themselves and to be successful,” she said. “Getting them back into school, providing added support for counseling and continuing any community ties they have is huge.”

In her time at the County, Dominique has seen second generation families exposed to the repetitive cycle of crime and punishment. Providing a way for youth and families to move out of the detention cycle is an important part of the work Dominique and her colleagues do.

She is proud to be a part of the change towards a more comprehensive rehabilitation style that takes into account the many variables impacting youth choices today.

“We are now focusing a lot more on trauma and adolescent brain development, and when you dig deeper into those elements within family and the youth, you get a much clearer picture on how we can help them,” she said. “And maybe not to excuse, but certainly to help explain some of the behaviors.”

The support provided by staff within DAJD to families and youth involved in juvenile detention is integral to them overcoming difficulties and developing meaningful relationships for a successful future. For some it even goes beyond their interaction with the juvenile justice system. Dominique shares how powerful creating these connections for an at-risk youth is, and how meaningful it is for youth to have a community that cares.

“Some youth come back as adults, just to say hello, to let me know how they’re doing and show me their family,” she said. “And then there are those who have that ‘bond.’ I may not have seen them for years but when crises hit, they call looking for support, for assistance in navigating through whatever problems they may be going through and for us to help connect them with resources.”

Pictured: From Making Choices, by Nhon Truong (2003, enamel paint on aluminum).

Regarding artwork: Before Nhon Truong designed his mural, Making Choices, he interviewed youth and families involved in the justice system. Common themes and values sprung from the conversations: Family, community, cultural diversity, future and dreams. Arts agency 4Culture says the work’s youthful style “incorporates content that is reflective of the older community, hoping to bridge gaps between audiences of all ages and cultural backgrounds.” The mural currently stands on a wall near the front entry to the Youth Services Center. When the new Children and Family Justice Center is built, it will be relocated inside of the main courthouse cafe. Read more here.