XENIA — Greene County Juvenile Court showed off its new Assessment and Intervention Center to elected officials and community stakeholders during an open house Friday.
The center — one of about two dozen in Ohio — promotes public safety by providing a safe, clean, and caring setting to deliver program services that lower risk and respond to the mental health, behavioral health, and life-skills needs of court involved youth and families in Greene County with a focus on reducing reliance on secure confinement. It also evaluates youth who appear to be struggling in some way emotionally, behaviorally, or socially in school, at home, with peers, or in the community.
The center, opened in 2020, is part of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative which aims to reduce the number of youth unnecessarily or inappropriately detained, reduce the number of youth who fail to appear in court or re-offend pending adjudication, and redirect public funds towards effective juvenile justice processes and public safety strategies.
Greene County Juvenile Court became a JDAI Court in 2017 under Judge Adolfo Tornichio and then established the assessment and intervention center.
“When we work with communities on Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, it’s really about investing in community and bringing everybody together,” said Ryan Gies, director of the Ohio Department of Youth Services. “Detention is appropriate in certain situations. We’re able to assess somebody’s needs. The impact is just huge. But it’s not going to be immediate. It’s going to be a long-term thing.”
Gies, who was appointed to his position by Gov. Mike DeWine, liked what he saw of the facility.
“They’ve set up a really good environment to receive a kid and welcome families,” Gies said.
DeWine, who toured the center Friday, said it’s vital to get to kids while change can be made and stressed the importance of the juvenile court judge.
“It’s so very important for us to intervene early in a young person’s life if they’re going down the wrong path,” DeWine said. “Many times with some good programming like you’re seeing here today, they can turn that child around and that child can become a very productive member of society. (The judge) and their team really impact kids’ lives and change their lives. They get that young person at an early age. They can turn that child around.”
DeWine added that when he was lieutenant governor and oversaw the criminal justice system, there were thousands of youth in the system at the state level and incarcerated at the state level. That wasn’t preferred at the county level.
“What judges told us then, was this, if you take that money that you’re spending on those kids from our county and you give us back that money, we will do a lot better job than you’re doing in taking care of those kids,” DeWine said. “And we believed them.”
Since RECLAIM Ohio (Reasoned and Equitable Community and Local Alternatives to the Incarceration of Minors) was created in 1993 and launched in 1994, the state has gone from 3,000 to 400 youth in the state system.
“The longer I’m in (government) the more I’m convinced that local is better,” DeWine said. “That if we can deal with our problems at the local level if the state doesn’t get in the way, if the state helps, if the state does what it needs to do, but lets local judges in this case make the decisions and her staff making the decisions, we are a lot better off than housing these kids throughout the state in state institutions.”
The center is located in a re-purposed residential treatment center near the Greene County Juvenile Justice Complex but is off grounds. The IC is a non-secure space that includes offices, bathrooms, non-secure interview rooms, waiting space, meeting space, a classroom, a group therapy room, a residential kitchen, and top-rate greenhouse. There is a satellite space at the Juvenile Court Complex that includes a staff office, secure waiting area, bathroom, and secure interview room.