STRAIGHT TALK: Juvenile Court provides services to youth

MANISTEE COUNTY — Many services in the community strive to protect and aid the public. Among these is one that aims to guide youth into leading healthy, positive lives.

Youth Services, which is under Manistee County’s 19th Circuit Court Family Division, provides a range of services to juveniles with the Juvenile Court System.

The Circuit Court has jurisdiction over all criminal cases with felony offenses, serious misdemeanors — sometimes called high court or Circuit Court misdemeanors — and domestic relations cases including divorce.

It is comprised of two counties: Manistee and Benzie.

The Circuit Court also handles Family Division matters, which include and are not limited to neglect or abuse, juvenile delinquency, adoption, emancipation of minors, name changes, personal protection orders or all cases where a violation of a personal protection order is alleged.

Cameron Clark, director of Youth Services for the Circuit Court, has been in his position for many years. The Manistee News Advocate spoke with Clark about Youth Services and the Youth Diversion Program, which is part of the Juvenile Court System in Manistee County.

MNA: What is important to you in your role under the Youth Services? 

CLARK: The importance of the Juvenile Court is providing the necessary services to youth in order to keep them out of the adult system and to make them more resilient. Instead of asking the question, “what’s wrong with this youth” we ask “what’s happened to this youth?” It’s a treatment thought process, not a blaming response.

MNA: Under Manistee County’s 19th Circuit Court, what do Youth Services typically handle/do?

CLARK: We provide services to youth who have committed, or are at-risk of committing offenses, that violate the law. Whenever possible, we try to provide these services within the community, attempting to keep youth in their homes and community.

MNA: What are the key components of the Youth Diversion Program? How does it work?

CLARK: The Diversion Program, in conjunction with our Consent Calendar probation, is designed to give youth an opportunity to acknowledge mistakes they have made and receive the necessary services in order to refrain from further violations of the law. Also to learn new skills and development new strengths, and to leave the court system better than when they entered it — without a formal criminal record.

MNA: What are the benefits or positive features for having this program?

CLARK: The most obvious benefit to youth, although they don’t always fully understand it at their young age, is to avoid having a criminal record. We also feel that helping them to become more resilient and better connected to the community in which they reside is a necessary aspect to our program. Youth are less likely to re-offend if they have a connection to their community and feel like a contributor to it.

MNA: How long has this program been around in Manistee County? Why have this program?

CLARK: Diversion and Consent Calendar have long been a part of the Juvenile Court System in Manistee County. However, over the past two years, we have re-thought our approach. Rather than simply telling young people what to do, which often results in severe “push-back” or reluctance, we now partner with the youth and their families.

They are active participants in creating their own plan for success. Obviously, there are some items in the contract that are non-negotiable, but many of the obligations are now an active negotiation. Since the implementation of this format, we have seen a significant rise in achievement and fewer youth are repeating their offenses.

MNA: What type of impact do you think this program has on the community? Do you think it has a significant impact on youth?

CLARK: Since this implementation of this new format, we are seeing a much higher degree of compliance, a significant increase in youth achievement and a lowering of the recidivism rate. Our goal is always to protect the safety of the community while providing our youth the services that increase their chances for a successful transition to adulthood.

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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