Colorado's juvenile corrections rates drop substantially; two detention centers to close

The state's focus on youth crime is adjusting to a substantial drop in numbers as the result of a big announcement from the Department of Human Services yesterday. As of last month, the number of Colorado youth committed to juvenile detention programs has decreased to a total lower than any documented since 1997.

The average daily number fell to approximately 1,000 youth, down roughly 500 from the Division of Youth Corrections' record high of 1,480 only five years ago. With the 33 percent drop in half a decade comes the planned closure of two detentions sites that have outlived their original purpose.

After all, they're no longer needed. The state's most recent plan to adapt to the change in numbers focuses on reducing the program by 44 beds, twenty of which belong to Sol Vista Youth Service Center in Pueblo. The other 24 are from Engelwood's Marvin W. Foote Youth Services Center.

"We started to see the trend in the last three years, and for the last six months, we've been looking at making this change," says Julie Krow, director of the Office of Children, Youth and Families for Colorado's Department of Human Services. "Anecdotally, it does appear to be a national trend, and I think it's related to everyone's awareness that there are things we can do to divert children from the criminal service program. There's a focus across the nation on ways to tackle substance abuse and work with families to provide more early intervention services."

To re-augment the facilities to areas with greater need, Pueblo's Sol Vista Center will be turned into a substance abuse facility where the Division of Mental Health Institutes' Circle Program will soon be relocated. Sol Vista's twenty current tenants will then be transferred to another facility operated by the Division of Youth Corrections, along with those living at the Foote Center. While the youth in the corrections program will move to Mount View Youth Services Center in Jefferson County, the remainder of the Foote facility, which houses eighty detained youth, will remain the same.

"It's such a positive thing," Krow says. "We're incarcerating fewer children, and we'll be able to provide more treatment and other intervention in the community with the resources. We're all very pleased, and it seems like some of the initiatives we've taken to provide up-front services have shown clear success."

The facilities' employees are another story: Plans for their future are currently less solid, though Reggie Bicha, executive director of the Human Resources Department, maintains that every effort will be made to immediately transfer them to other jobs within a state agency.

The state's recent success within the juvenile justice system can be traced, at least in part, to a series of community measures and a decline of juvenile crime overall within the past few years. The numbers in the adult corrections division are declining as well.

"At this point in time, we feel like we've corrected the number of beds to focus on the number of kids who really need those services," Krow says. "I know the Department of Corrections has also closed some facilities, and it appears there is a trend just in terms of the number of people incarcerated, adults and children together, decreasing. It's an exciting thing."

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