More than 100 people gathered in Riverton on Tuesday for the Statewide Summit on Juvenile Justice hosted by the Wyoming Afterschool Alliance. The summit brought together a diversity of stakeholders — from school staff to after school providers to social workers to prosecutors — to figure out how to keep kids engaged in school and out of the juvenile justice system.
National experts presented data on how the majority of juvenile offenses take place during unsupervised time and discussed how afterschool programs keep kids engaged in positive activities, improve graduation rates, and ultimately reduce crime.
Allison Anderson is the Chair of the State Advisory Council on Juvenile Justice. During a panel on Wyoming perspectives from the juvenile justice field, she said, unfortunately, the legislature is cutting programs that help at-risk kids. “We continue to see with the legislature that discussions are had, but somehow the result still ends up that we are cutting those front end services over and over again.”
Anderson acknowledged there are tough budget decisions before the legislature, but she questioned why early intervention services for kids are the first things to get cut. “And it just doesn’t make logical sense to me when there is research report after research report that says that’s not the better investment,” referring to the cost of incarcerating young people.
Damon DeBernardi, an attorney for Sweetwater County, who was also on the panel said kids end up in the system because they need help. “Kids that are ending up in the juvenile justice system are coming in with some serious mental health needs.” He said it makes a difference, “having the Afterschool Alliance, and having county agencies provide mental health services to those children before they end up in the juvenile system.”
Data from the Wyoming Afterschool Alliance indicates early intervention engages kids on a healthy path, and it saves money too by keeping kids out of detention, and out of prison as adults. It costs about $800 a year to have a child in an afterschool program. It costs $9,660 a year to care for a child when the Department of Family Services has to intervene.