Janesville30.6°

Juvenile probation officers asked to manipulate court

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Ted Sullivan
December 17, 2009
— Consultants hired to investigate alleged misconduct in the Rock County juvenile justice division said probation officers weren’t told to lie in court, but they were asked to manipulate information while testifying.

“You can’t do that,” Jim Moeser said. “You can’t try and hide stuff from the court.”


Moeser of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families and Wayne Liddell of Liddell & Associates were hired by the Rock County Human Services Board to evaluate the juvenile justice division. They presented their findings to the board Wednesday in a roughly 90-page report.


The consultants interviewed 50 people, reviewed 170 e-mails, 60 documents and surveyed workers for their investigation.


Allegations that managers were releasing dangerous kids to reduce the detention center’s population and close the facility couldn’t be proven, the report states.


“There is no written evidence that this is the case, and management staff clearly denies that the overall intent has been to eliminate use of detention,” the report states. “That does not mean the intent was not there—we simply can’t confirm it.”


The division also wasn’t risking public safety by releasing dangerous kids, the report states. Only one juvenile who was released re-offended a short time later.


However, the juvenile justice division lacks values, vision and communication, the report said. The division also operates under outdated practices.


Organizational culture

The juvenile justice division lacks morale, trust and respect among its employees, the report states.


“It was very, very obvious to both of us that there was very little communication within this division,” Moeser said.


Workers have little opportunity for discussion or face-to-face communication with managers, he said. They felt like they had to drag themselves to work.


The division also has a lack of good leadership, Moeser said.


Managers fail to provide workers with a vision, ongoing training or policies to follow, he said.


“The fact that there were not any current policies and procedures to speak of was just amazing,” Liddell said. “An organization needs to have policies and procedures for people to reflect on.”


Some probation officers also felt entitled, thought they knew the job and acted like they didn’t need a supervisor, he said.


Intake decisions

Juvenile probation officers don’t use a standard screening tool when deciding who gets held in detention, the report states. Detention decisions also were documented inconsistently.


The lack of such a screening tool is unfair to juveniles, the report states.


Too many probation officers, about 15 total, have the authority to decide whether a juvenile is detained, the report states. That many people with the “keys” to the detention center creates inconsistency.


Solutions

The juvenile justice division needs to create policies, update its practices and provide more leadership for its probation officers, the report states.


The court should lead the effort to create a screening tool to decide whether to detain a juvenile. Fewer workers also should be making detention decisions.


A supervisor also should have the ability to review the detention decisions each day and possibly overturn them.


Communication among the division, schools, law enforcement and other agencies also needs to be improve, possibly with a group that meets monthly.



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