By ROBERT PIERCE • Daily Leader
Hundreds of thousands of young people enter the juvenile justice system each year – some in need of intensive supervision and strict sanctions and others who would benefit more from a lower level of intervention.
This means basing a supervision program around the individual needs of a child rather than using the same strategy for every youth. To help with this, officials from the 26th Judicial District’s Juvenile Corrections and Prevention Services office are bringing a program which originated in the state of Washington.
JCAPS director Gena Burnett spoke with the Seward County Commission at the board’s Jan. 5 meeting and with the Leader Wednesday about the Positive Achievement Change Tool. She said PACT is an evidenced-based assessment tool that can be used when kids are arrested.
“What it will determine is their level of risk, meaning how likely are they to go out to re-offend,” she said. “If they’re low risk, they’re less likely to go out and commit more crimes. If they’re high risk, then they have certain areas in their life that are causing them to be a higher risk to go out and commit more crimes.”
Burnett said PACT has 12 domains, and in each of those, JCAPS officials ask about certain areas of a child’s life such as peers, education and family.
“In each area, we’ll be able to tell if they are high risk in that area,” she said. “If they are, we know how to develop plans so that we can carry out a good plan to help that kid meet their needs.”
Burnett said in this way, PACT steers away from what had been done in the past when every kid received the same sentence for a crime.
“Every kid’s different, and they all need different things,” she said. “With this assessment, we’ll be able to target what it is they do need and give them those areas. If they don’t need it, they’re not given things they don’t need. It kind of just adds more science to what the kids actually need and how we can help them.”
Burnett said first-time offenders can go through the intervention program, and if completed successfully, the youth will not get a criminal record.
“What the PACT will also do is even for kids that are not first-time offenders, it gives a good recommendation for the court so that when they are handing down a sentence to that kid, they have an assessment right there in front of them that can kind of guide them in their decision in what kind of sentence that kid needs,” she said.
Burnett added the type of crime does not always correlate with the type of sentence needed.
“Just because they commit something that somebody thinks would be a terrible crime doesn’t mean they’re actually high risk to re-offend,”
she said. “They may have just done something really stupid on one occasion.”
Burnett said through PACT, families can be reached at the beginning of the arrest.
“In the past, we were having to wait until the court got involved,”
Burnett said JCAPS is expecting to go live with the program in February with the actual assessment process.
“We first made the proposal to the county commission I believe in July,” she said. “We’ve kind of been working on it and devising a plan.”
Burnett said PACT is derived from a tool called the Washington Assessment Court Tool.
“The state of Washington implemented this, and since that time, it has evolved in this company called Assessments.com,” she said. “The reason why it’s called a PACT is because it has a case plan at the end of it.”
Burnett also said those who complete the intervention will never go to court. She said PACT is something of a new concept in the state.
“In Kansas, there is not a lot of assessing that’s going on of this magnitude at intake,” she said. “Once they end up on probation, we have full-blown assessments that we do, but state level, there’s not a lot of districts that go into this much detail this far into it.”
Burnett said JCAPS is making contact with kids in the beginning when they first encounter law enforcement.
“The majority of the rest of the state doesn’t really get a handle on the kids until they’re actually going in front of a court,” she said.
“It’s just trying to help the families a lot sooner.”
Burnett said Garden City has a similar program similar to PACT.
“I’ve actually worked with them a lot developing the ideas and the concepts, but statewide, it doesn’t happen a lot,” she said.
Burnett said JCAPS is moving forward with the program.
“We’re implementing some things earlier on than what a lot of the rest of the districts have done,” she said. “In Garden City, they’ve done this already. They’re kind of ahead. This was always the biggest missing link that I felt was in our juvenile justice system was to not be able to give immediate help in the beginning.”
Burnett said some parents and children have had to wait as long as a year before they could get to court.
“The parents were at their wit’s end,” she said. “They needed help.
They’d already given up. It’s just a lot quicker response.”
Burnett said children do not necessarily have to be arrested to participate in PACT.
“If the parents are having significant problems with their kids at home, they can bring their kids in and have this assessment done, and we can develop a case plan and at least direct the family and the kids to get the services they need,” she said.
Burnett said children can be referred to PACT by organizations such as courts, schools and private groups.
“It’s basically if they’re having problems, they can bring their kid in, and we can go through this assessment process and hopefully give them an educated decision and some ideas on how to get their kids some help,” she said.