Letters

From the week of July 26, 2001

Juvie, Juvie, Juvie

Correct deficiencies, build on success:As Chairman of the Arizona Juvenile Justice Commission, it was with great interest that I read Amy Silverman's article on the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections ("The Kids are NOT Alright," July 5).

Ms. Silverman's article raises a number of serious and significant concerns relative to the proper administration and oversight to the ADJC. Ms. Silverman's conclusion that ". . . verbal and sexual abuse, inappropriate use of restraints and solitary confinement, and violence against both juveniles and staff are common at the state's facilities . . ." is clearly a statement that will be evaluated and examined closely by the ADJC and others in the coming weeks. The Arizona Juvenile Justice Commission supports objective and focused efforts to substantiate and eliminate any and all instances of abuse and violence, wherever and whenever they occur.

However, in fairness to any portrayal of Arizona's juvenile justice system, of which the ADJC is an integral component, is the fact that the vast majority of volunteers and professionals alike labor diligently, skillfully and, in many cases, thanklessly, in service to youth and their community. From community-based programs, residential treatment centers, diversion projects, juvenile courts and probation departments, treatment providers and secure facilities, such as those found at ADJC, there prevails a "best practice" approach to juvenile justice prevention, intervention and public safety. That has been, and remains, both standard and substance among those who dedicate themselves to youth in our state.

One need not take my word for it. In 1998, an independent evaluation was completed of this state's juvenile justice system. The audit concluded that "Arizona has one of the best juvenile justice systems in the country."

That does not mean that there does not exist room for improvement. As Governor Hull's crime policy adviser George Weisz has noted, ". . . one failure is one too many," and work continues to improve our system. Through the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Committee, the audit recommendations for further system enhancements and collaboration are being implemented statewide. In addition, the Arizona Juvenile Justice Commission has strenuously pursued establishing a common vision for juvenile justice by encouraging innovation in all aspects of service delivery and the promotion of safe communities through support of life skills and accountability for youth and families.

I would vigorously disagree with the conclusion to this issue articulated in Ms. Silverman's article. Our response should not be to "close the gates" as a way of changing institutional culture. What we believe that the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections should and will do is to correct deficiencies whenever they are noted and substantiated, and build on the acknowledged quality and success of the people and institutions who make up our state's juvenile justice system.

Dennis Pickering, Chairman
Arizona Juvenile Justice Commission

Been there, seen none of that: My position as chairman of the Juvenile Justice Coordinating Committee has allowed me to become familiar with the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections and the conditions within its facilities. I have toured the Adobe Mountain and Black Canyon facilities repeatedly. I have visited their classrooms, and I have spoken with staff and youth. In fact, I visited Adobe Mountain and Black Canyon on June 20, 2001. I have toured all the juvenile facilities in the state.

Given that experience, I was puzzled by your reporter's inaccurate description of conditions within ADJC. No agency is without faults, but I am convinced that David Gaspar and his staff are doing an excellent job with a tough group of young people. Nothing I have seen during those visits resembles the conditions you describe. Normally, Amy Silverman does an excellent job of unbiased reporting but, she missed the boat big time in this article.

My committee is working with Director Gaspar and other members of the juvenile justice community to implement these improvements. As long as I continue to see the current level of progress, Gaspar and his agency have my vote of confidence.

Senator Tom Smith
District 26

 
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