Inyo County moving toward more services for at-risk youth

By Deb Murphy

The stage was set during last summer’s Inyo County budget discussions: with some tweaking of the Probation Department’s juvenile system and coordination with Health and Human Services, more effective and efficient services could be provided for kids in that system.

CAO Kevin Carunchio

CAO Kevin Carunchio

Maintaining Inyo’s Juvenile Hall came with a $1.5 million price tag for an in-custody population that has dropped to single digits over the last decade. The hall and staffing was fully funded for the 2015-16 fiscal year, giving the County, Probation and H&HS a year to figure out a way to deliver more resources with that $1.5 million plus specific state and federal funding.

Both departments have been working on pieces of that puzzle. At the special Board of Supervisors meeting on February 23, both were given specific target dates to develop a plan to bring all the pieces together. The community partners and County staff will get together March 2 for a planning session led by staff from the University of California Davis Extension Training Center.

County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio started the discussion with a description of what the new model could look like.

Juvenile Hall would become a Special Purpose Facility, staffed and housing juveniles on weekends only with on-call staffing for the mandatory maximum 72-hour hold minors. During the week, the kids would live at home and attend school, helped by H&HS programs that focus on families.

Those juveniles who require 24/7 incarceration would be sent to facilities in other counties. With juvenile crime trending down nation-wide, there are beds available at a reasonable cost. Probation Chief Jeff Thomson plans to have three or four agreements in place, all within a four-hour drive.

Probation and H&HS would co-manage an Area Resource Center initially providing a broad range of services to at-risk kids and their families, including substance abuse and mental health counseling. Eventually, the Center would serve at-risk adults with distinct separation from the minors. The Center would be a one-stop-shop for tools to get back on track.

Carunchio’s presentation identified deadlines to get the Center, or at least the services it would provide, operational by July 1, 2016.

Neither department has to re-invent the wheel. Probation has been focused on pointing its case load in a better direction since Assembly Bill 109 moved non-violent, non-sexual felons out of the over-crowded state prison system and back home to county jails. Probation officers have been trained in Effective Practices in Community Supervision with marked success to ensure that the Independence jail houses only those who need to be there.

H&HS has been keeping pace with state and federal funded initiatives focused on core issues facing minors and their families. Currently, the department provides substance abuse classes for both H&HS and Probation staff.

The Supervisors were in unanimous agreement with a system that would improve resources and services to County youth.

County Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer iced the cake with an offer of his office’s Jill Kinmont Boothe School as a potential site for a juvenile center. The student enrollment as JKBS has dropped from 64 when McAteer came to Inyo County to six.

“We’ve raised the bar,” he said.

He and Thomson have had discussions on how to maintain education for minors in the juvenile system.

“A court school is essential,” McAteer said. “Our schools aren’t going to take an adjudicated student. They send those kids to the County Office of Education.”

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