An Interview with Catherine Strode
Colorado could lead the nation in Juvenile Justice Reform if a bill to eliminate detention for youth ages 10 to 12 passes this session.
The bill, which passed out of the House Judiciary Committee unanimously, would eliminate the requirement for the Department of Human Services to place a youth in detention unless charged with a serious offense.
In an interview with Catherine Strode, the Republican and Democratic co-sponsors discuss why this bill is necessary and its potential of a positive impact on Colorado youth.
Why are you co-sponsoring House Bill 17- 1207?
State Senator Priola: “I’m a father of four. I was appalled. We don’t need to treat 10 and 11 year olds like they are adults and throw them in jail. It seemed to me to be heavy handed and a legacy of the 90’s, when it was a ‘lock everybody up and throw away the key’ mentality. There was a lot of incarceration in the late 80’s, and the 90’s, and a ‘three strikes you’re out’ mentality. We need to improve the system so kids, once they hit the end of 12th grade or head into college or a career, are able to perform at a high level. That helps economic development of the private sector in the region. It also helps the state budget in that you have more people making higher incomes and paying into the system, instead of being in the criminal justice system which is a net negative.”
Why are you co-sponsoring bipartisan bills this session that target youth and educational issues?
“I have always tried to run bipartisan bills. It’s one of the blessings of representing a very diverse, bipartisan (if you will) senate district. My interest in education and kids probably comes from the fact that I have a lot of educators in my family, my wife included. With four children, I directly see how kids are at different ages and their culture. It’s just a different perspective. I try to lend my perspective as a parent and someone who has a lot of relatives in education to policy in the state. I think with this bill we definitely found a spot which passes the common sense, common man, approach. These are 10 or 12 year olds; throwing them in a cell with 20 year olds may be is creating more problems than it is solving, which is why I wanted to have a policy discussion round it.”
Why is this bill necessary?
State Representative Lee: “There were 164 kids over the past two years who were sent into locked detention facilities for committing misdemeanors or petty offenses. We don’t need to be sending those kinds of kids into secure detention. We need to keep them in the community. I proceed from the premise that incarceration is bad for little kids. A correctional setting is a place where they are likely to become victimized, or hardened, or develop relationships that are not good for them. The more you can do, in my view, to keep kids out of detention facilities, the better. Research shows if you start putting kids in jail, you are increasing the likelihood they will be reincarcerated at some later time. That is one consequence that is clearly demonstrated. Kids that get incarcerated are typically less likely to stay in school and finish school. Once they go down that pipeline, that’s the beginning of that school to prison pipeline. Once they reduce their likelihood of staying in school, their likelihood of continuing in the educational world diminishes and their likelihood of going to prison later on increases. By incarcerating them you’re starting them down a bad path. By requiring them to stay in their communities, in their homes, and keeping them out of jail, I think the likelihood of them having better outcomes significantly increases.”
Where would these youth be placed if not detention?
“They basically stay under the jurisdiction of the Department of Human Services. They stay with their parents, community alternative placement, or other options within the community. These are kids who have committed low level, nonviolent offenses such as truancy. These are not gun cases, not violent cases. They are low level, what we call status cases; they really should not be in secure, locked detention. If they go to Human Services they can be assessed under Senate Bill 94. Senate Bill 94 provides alternative treatment services for kids. Under Senate Bill 94, it might be determined that they have mental health needs, academic issues; and under Senate Bill 94 they can get services for those issues. Detention is not where these kids ought to be. They should be assessed and kept in the community. If they pose a risk to the community, then they will be sent to Youth Corrections but not if they are not inherently risky.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.