BY misreading federal law, a bureaucrat in the Ohio Department of Youth Services has ended Toledo Police Department’s participation in an effective youth program -- without even seeing it. Gov. John Kasich’s people must straighten this out, and get Toledo’s troubled young men back in the nationally renowned Youth Deterrent Program at Ryan Correctional Facility in Detroit.
The inmate-run program, without sensationalism or hype, depicts the sobering realities of prison and encourages young men to make better choices by avoiding negative peer pressure. Preliminary tracking studies show the program works.
But a DYS compliance officer ruled that Toledo’s participation in Youth Deterrent violates the federal Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act. The law generally prohibits juvenile offenders from being "detained or confined in any adult jail or lock-up."
The law is good. It’s meant to, by separating adult and juvenile offenders in any secure setting, protect juveniles from abuse or inappropriate treatment.
But the law clearly does not apply to the Youth Deterrent Program. Youths entering the prison visiting room at Ryan are not detained or confined. They are, voluntarily participating in a program.
Over the past two years, more than 200 Toledo youths, ages 13 to 18, have participated in the monthly program at the Ryan prison. Toledo police officers accompany about 10 youths per trip. During two-hour exchanges in the prison’s visiting room, eight or nine inmates, most of them serving life sentences, talk respectfully and passionately to young men from Toledo and Michigan.
I’ve visited the program at least a dozen times while I was in Detroit. When I moved to Toledo two years ago, I helped hook up TPD with the Youth Deterrent program.
"It’s been effective in reaching a lot of young men,’’ Toledo Police Officer Flo Wormely told me Wednesday. "The inmates explain, in a factual way, the pain and loss of prison, and what got them there. I would hate to lose this program."
Youth Deterrent, run at the Detroit prison for nearly seven years, has the support of judges, local and state law enforcement, and Barbara McQuade, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. It has given more than 2,000 young men a dose of reality about where crime, violence, and poor choices can lead.
"It was a powerful program,’’ said Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp, who visited Youth Deterrent last year. "It was obvious that these inmates cared about the kids. They gave them tools for not going down the same path they did. It was really the opposite of Scared Straight -- and much more effective."
I asked Jim Lynch, who works in the Kasich administration, about the dispute. He vowed today that the administration would check it out.
Let’s hope the governor can get this right and restore an important resource for Toledo Police and young people in this city.
"They made it real,’’ Isaiah Newton, 15, of Toledo, told me last year as we left the Ryan prison.
Leave it to the state bureaucracy to make it unreal.