Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 15, 1999

Juvenile justice forum to discuss youth discipline issues

By Luis Puga

A juvenile justice system forum will be in Winsted Thursday, March 18, sponsored by the Winsted Civic and Commerce Association (C&C).

It will be at 6:30 the Holy Trinity High School gymnasium.

The event, organized by the C&C's political coordinator Lenora Kubasch, will be attended by many leaders from the courts, law enforcement, the clergy, and school. Kubasch said she encourages parents and children to attend and participate.

The main speaker for the event will be Judge Philip Kanning, who will be giving a speech entitled "Restorative Justice, Community Justice ­ Diversion Through High Risk Assessment and Treatment."

Kanning, who presides over the first district court covering seven area counties, responded to the invitation from Kubasch as a way to inform the community more about changes in the juvenile justice system.

Also expected will be a communication from Representative Tony Kielkucki, if not an appearance, on legislation pertaining to the juvenile justice system currently being considered.

Kubasch said that her thrust in organizing the forum is not to criminalize the youth in the community. Rather, she would like to keep the community informed so that any delinquency can be kept as a small problem.

Kubasch has also asked representatives from the students at the school, such as student council members, to attend the discussion.

However, she is concerned about trends she sees in the juvenile court system. She believes the key to disciplining children is simplicity and that the juvenile system has become overly complex.

At the same time, she is concerned about children who are repeat offenders at eight years old. She believes a basic message needs to be sent to youthful offenders: "if you make a mess, you clean it up."

Much of her concern lies with the schools. According to Kubasch, discipline has become overly difficult in education. Teachers are too afraid to hold kids responsible because of threats of lawsuits.

Kubasch mentioned recent sic-outs from bus drivers in the metro area due to rambunctious behavior from children. She is also concerned that goals of smaller class sizes will not be met due to teachers afraid to deal with behavior issues.

Overall, she sees these problems and issues as complicating the juvenile justice system and the everyday discipline of children.

"I guess my comment would be, 'simple justice dies of complications,'" she said.

By that, she explains, the police and courts get involved in cases that used to not come to legal system in the past. She believes discipline in the school or home or the community would keep the court system for the real delinquency issues.

Legal perspective

Attorney Fran Eggert agrees with Kubasch's concern of cases in the court system. He said he sees many cases coming to court that shouldn't be there.

Eggert, who is Winsted's city attorney and handles cases as a public defender, sees the reason for that is a breakdown of other disciplinary sources in the home or in the school.

He believes that the police are too readily called for less severe delinquency issues such as two students getting into a shoving match.

Eggert also provided a description of the juvenile judicial system. He explained that there are a number of ways the courts can approach a delinquent.

The first is the juvenile court system and begins with a petition that the defendant admits or denies. Essentially, that is a plea of guilty or innocent.

In this system, there are no jury trials and the most severe penalty is detention. Guilt is determined by a judge in an ejudicatory hearing, and sentencing takes place in a disposition. Eggert said that this system was designed specifically to be paternalistic.

In the past, one of the other options was to try the juvenile as an adult. In this case, if the crime was serious enough and it was thought that the juvenile could not be rehabilitated, the prosecutor could ask the court to certify the child as an adult.

If certified, the penalties are the same as an adult. These trials are in front of a jury.

Eggert described the third option as a halfway point between the above two options. It is called extended juvenile jurisdiction or (EJJ).

It is invoked for a specific list of severe crimes and the child gets a jury trial. This process has been the newest process to develop in the last five years.

Still another measure is to divert. In this case, the child is charged, but there is no trial.

Rather he/she is put under the supervision of a probation officer for six months. Eggert said it is a measure to show the consequences of delinquent behavior without putting the child into the system.

Lastly, if a child admits or please guilty to a charge, he or she could be given an interim disposition or stay of ejudication.

In this case, the child is also on probation and may be required to make restitution and/or community service. If the defendant meets the conditions, the incident will not appear on his/her permanent record.

These measures are in part to impress upon children that there are consequences to their actions.

While Eggert will not be at the forum, Michelle Barley, who also works as a public defender, will be present to offer more on the legal side of the juvenile justice system.

Also confirmed to appear will be Winsted Police Chief Mike Henrich and Andy Ypma, a juvenile probation officer.

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