A new Harlem resource center will give first-time juvenile offenders a second chance.
The Family Resource and Evening Reporting Center, a partnership between Columbia County Community Connections and Columbia County Juvenile Court, opened this week at 212 N. Louisville Street.
“If we don’t come together as one, we’re not accomplishing anything,” said Juvenile Court Intake and Probation Officer Kari Poss, who helped create the center.
In 2007, 763 Columbia County youths were charged with unruly or delinquent acts. That number rose to 849 in 2008, to 1,136 in 2009 and to 1,230 in 2010. Another 506 charges were filed in the first half of 2011. Figures for the second half of the year were not available.
“It is one of those problems that most people don’t see,” Community Connections Executive Director Julie Miller said. “It’s not in your face.”
When Columbia County sheriff’s deputies respond to a complaint of unruly juveniles or other misdemeanor offense, the only options are to detain the juveniles at the Regional Youth Detention Center or release them to their parents.
If released to their parents immediately, bad situations often escalate into violence, Poss said.
The center provides a third option: a place for non-violent juvenile offenders to cool off, tell their side of the story and receive services to get them back on track.
“No sex offenders, no physical violence, no felony kids coming in here,” Poss said. “This is all misdemeanor status offenses. ... This is for first-time offenders.”
Juveniles charged as unruly, delinquent or truant, or being a minor in possession, having illegal substances at school, or simple battery, will be taken to the center. They are give an online assessment to identify their needs, and then a plan is developed for both juveniles and parents.
“This is your first encounter with Juvenile Court and we want to make it your last,” Miller said. “It’s a u-turn (opportunity).”
The juveniles can be ordered to attend three months of after-school or evening programs to include help with homework, activities and counseling. The parents also can be required to attend counseling.
Those juveniles requiring more intense treatment will be referred to the appropriate services.
Charges will be dismissed against juveniles accomplishing the goals of their plans, while prosecution will loom for those who don’t cooperate.
The center is funded by a grant through the Governor’s Office of Children and Family Services. The center will receive $174,800 per year for three years.
It will be open 1-10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and intake officers will be on call on weekends.
“We’re not going to be able to help every child and every family,” Miller said. “But we should be able to help a lot of people who need it.”
For more information about the center and its services, call Poss at (706) 868-3320.