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Juvenile Detentions Drop After Pinal Justice Center Takes New Approach

Denise Smith
(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
Denise Smith, Juvenile Court director in Pinal County.

Five years ago, in Pinal County’s juvenile detention center in Florence, 926 young people were detained. Last year, that number was just 331.

That dramatic drop is the result of a new approach the county is taking to how young people there are screened and detained.

The Show’s Lauren Gilger went down to Pinal County’s Juvenile Justice Center to find out how this new approach is working.

In fact, in fiscal year 2016, the Juvenile Justice Center actually released more juveniles than it detained. They released 359 young people that year and detained just 331.

And that’s because they’ve implemented a new pre-screening process that determines a young person’s threat to the community.

When an officer brings someone into detention, they’re asked a series of questions and given a score. Score less than 12, and officers start looking at alternatives. They’ll call their parents, family, friends, anyone they think they can release this young person to.

The idea is to only detain kids who really need to be detained, according to Denise Smith, the Juvenile Court director in Pinal County. She gave me a tour of the detention center recently, and we discussed this new approach.

Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.