An Interview with Catherine Strode
State Representative Pete Lee has sponsored a series of bills to bring about change in Colorado’s juvenile justice and youth corrections systems. State Representative Lois Landgraf has established a legislative reputation for being an advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This Session, the two legislators from El Paso County have paired up to sponsor House Bill 17- 1329, a bill that supports a cultural shift in the Division of Youth Corrections including a name change. A recently released report, entitled Bound and Broken, details incidences of increased violence and injuries within the Division.
In an interview with Catherine Strode, Representative Pete Lee explains the bill’s attempt, through a proposed pilot program, to combat violence and to change the culture within the state’s youth corrections system. Representative Landgraf explains how this juvenile justice bill relates to her ongoing efforts to back legislation that offers protection to individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
How does this bill propose cultural change within the Division of Youth Corrections?
State Representative Pete Lee:
“What it does is try to move the Division of Youth Corrections to a more therapeutic and rehabilitative system. We changed the name of the Division to the ‘Division of Youth Services’ to more adequately and appropriately reflect the purpose of the Division. We set up within the Division a pilot program which is based on a therapeutic model and based on more peer to peer relationship building to try and improve kids’ competencies and capabilities. That’s the main direction that the bill is moving the Division. The Division has had a very public record of chaos and violence within it for the past few years. A report just came out called ‘Bound and Broken’, describing the barbaric treatment of kids within the Division of Youth Corrections. It detailed over 3600 times when kids were physically restrained by staff within 13 months, the excessive use of solitary confinement, physical restraints, and pain compliance techniques. The goal of the bill was to treat kids in a more humane fashion which I think is more likely to lead to rehabilitation and change among the kids.”
The bill proposes a two-year pilot program. How would the pilot program work?
State Representative Pete Lee:
“The pilot sets out certain criteria and goals that the program is designed to meet. It sets up requirements that the pilot has to achieve. It would be at least a 20-bed pilot program. The Division of Youth Corrections would go out with a Request For Proposal to outside third parties who are experienced and skilled and knowledgeable in moving from a violent, trauma type environment to a rehabilitative, therapeutic environment. Then the bill has some timelines in it. When the contract is signed, then they would make whatever physical changes are needed within the particular facility. Then they would bring the contractor in to train employees.”
How did you become interested in this bill’s issue as it seems a new issue for you?
State Representative Landgraf:
“I happened to go to a meeting where they had a presentation on what’s known as the ‘Missouri model.’ It covered how that model seems to be working with juveniles, rehabilitating these kids, getting them back into society. After seeing that (presentation), I realized when these kids are treated the way they’ve been treated, safety on both sides is compromised. We’re compromising the safety of the guards. We’re also compromising the safety of the kids. We want these kids to get back out in society eventually. That’s the point of it.”
How does this bill aligned with your commitment to advocating for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities?
State Representative Lois Landgraf:
“I view this as an advocacy bill for kids who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Many kids that end up in the Department of Youth Corrections have IDD. They may have autism or different types of intellectual and developmental disabilities, which is why they end up committing a crime. Many of them have been abused. Many of them have been neglected. Part of it is a lack of understanding of consequences. If you have an intellectual disability, you don’t necessarily fully understand ‘if I do this– THIS is going to happen.’ This bill could certainly help anyone that has a developmental disability who ends up in the criminal justice system. They’ll have an atmosphere where they can be rehabilitated instead of just being locked up and putting in their time.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Policy Outreach Specialist. Formerly the Coordinator of the Health Care Advocacy Program, 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.