The Division of Youth Corrections has signed a history-making contract with representatives of the Ute Indian Tribe to provide programs and facilities for delinquent youths on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation at no cost to the tribe.
The director of the division, Ron Stromberg, and staff members Wayne Holland and Garrett Wilkins Tuesday discussed and presented copies of the agreement to members of the Ute Business Council, which governs the tribe.The contract, effective July 1, outlines what services the state will provide, and specifies circumstances where a delinquent can be placed in detention, shelter or other programs. The division already provides some services, but the contract formalizes the agreement.
In the past, detention has been used inappropriately, said Wayne Holland of Youth Corrections.
"We've tended to lock kids up for non-criminal or minor criminal offenses, like a ticket or being ungovernable," he said. "But everything indicates that juveniles will do better if we can keep them out of detention."
The contract details specific actions for which a youth can be put in lock-down detention. Such an action must be "considered a felony crime if committed by an adult," which excludes status offenses (like those based on age, such as curfew violations), misdemeanors and minor felonies. It lists felonies for which detention is appropriate, and clarifies when non-secure shelters should be used.
Decisions on placement will be made by the Tribal Juvenile Court, but any dispute will be jointly resolved by the court and the division.
"We think this is the only agreement of this sort in the United States, where the state works with children on the reservation at no cost to the tribe," Holland said.
For the past 10 years, Youth Corrections has focused on "placing facilities where the kids are," Holland said. Three combination shelter-detention facilities are located in rural areas now: Blanding, Vernal and Richfield. The "youth centers" have a lock-up detention center with a capacity of four on one end, and a shelter for up to six on the other end.
Stromberg said such an arrangement is economical and practical. "It's combined, but separate, so it has a little bit of a schizophrenic atmosphere," he said, "but this is a very progressive approach to dealing with kids. Many states are still locking up large numbers of kids, and that only hurts the kids."
Frequently, he said, children are locked up in adult facilities because there are no juvenile facilities in rural areas. The emphasis on placing facilities where the children are has changed the face of youth corrections significantly.
"It's not just being nice to kids," Holland said. "National statistics say there are seven times more suicides by children in adult facilities than in juvenile facilities.
"The suicide is typically a first offender, and typically the offense is alcohol and auto related. He's usually from a middle-class white family, and normally within the first 12 hours, while he's still influenced by alcohol, he sits and in a hazy kind of way thinks he's ruined his life and his parents' lives," so he kills himself.
More than 4,000 youths have committed suicide in U.S. jails.
"The nice thing about Utah's youth correction system," Holland said, "is we find that the fewer we lock up, the better it is for the kids, and the less likely they are to continue crime. And it saves a lot of money."
The contract was signed by Norman Angus, director of the Department of Social Services; Stromberg; Garrett Watkins, regional administrator; Irene Cuch, vice-chairman of the Ute Business Committee; Debra Ridley and Larry Yazzie, tribal Juvenile Court judges; and Linda Luinstra, assistant attorney general. It is non-lapsing, but either party can terminate it.