Webinar presenter Judge Michael Latham answered a number of your questions after his presentation, From Detention to Legacy: The Creation of the Legacy Teen Center. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Where did all the funding and continued funding come from for this awesome facility? I work with kids mental health and probation in a small rural community as well, a large county but very rural.
Judge Michael Latham: Our funding comes from the same funding we used to get for the detention center. Obviously, it costs less to operate this than to operate a detention center. Part of the reason why we were able to do that is that I am the presiding judge of Apache County. The way I look at this program is this a part of a comprehensive juvenile justice model. It gives me and our system and our community more options to address needs that are more in line with the issues we are facing. Whereas before it was kind of like do nothing or detain them and nothing in between. The money that we get is the money that we obtain through the county, it’s the money that used to go to operate detention centers. When we closed the detention center, we’re very proactive, and luckily, we had great county board of supervisors who supported us and supported our vision. That’s how we did it. If you have a rural community and you have something like this or need like this, there are different avenues where you can get funding. One of them may be looking at how we can be more efficient? We entered into intergovernmental agreements with neighboring counties who may also have some inefficiencies built in. In Arizona, we are lucky enough to be part of an integrated court system. We have those interactions and we are also able to explore those options and that’s how we were able to do what we did. If we had to operate our own detention center in our own county inefficient as it was, we would not have the funding to do what we did. It took that kind of exploration in closing our detention center in order to get the money we needed to do this.
Audience Question: Are those kids that do need to be detained, are they going to outside the county facilities?
Judge Michael Latham: Yeah, so they go to Pinal County. If we have to send a kid, I asked for our most up to date. Our average daily occupants is 0.4 now. Usually, it’s 1.7 now it’s 0.4 on average how many kids we have in Pinal County Detention. We pay daily. If we have a kid there, we pay for every day they’re there. That $40,000 that we pay, that’s our average it changes a little bit but that’s paying for the costs of having those kids in Pinal County.
Audience Question: Can you talk about some of your thoughts about how you think you experienced that 50% reduction in referrals?
Judge Michael Latham: A lot of kids that we work with and this is right in line with Tim Hardy and Kids at Hope model is most of the kids we deal with, or 100% of the kids we deal with are not bad kids. They are good kids. Sometimes they are rebellious. A lot of them, I would say the vast majority of kids we deal with are kids who come from really rough backgrounds, a lot of drug and alcohol abuse in the home, a lot of volatility in the home. Those two kids you saw painting that wall, one of them was there. He didn’t even have to be there. It’s because of his mom, she had marijuana. He was on probation. He’s not supposed to have marijuana. He told his mom has marijuana, I’m going to get in trouble. She took that as a threat. She called the police and said he ran away. We told that kid, you know what, just come here every day. He came here every day and worked on the Loft and he stayed out of trouble because he didn’t have to be home. The other kid who was in the picture, same thing, both of his parents were in prison, his grandpa was raising him. His grandpa was 93 years old so he was essentially unsupervised. He told us, “If you guys had this when I was a sophomore, I would have never gotten in trouble I got in.” A lot of these kids don’t have many places to go. You figure that when you live in a small poor rural community, a lot of these kids come from single-parent homes, almost a hundred percent of those parents are having to work. From 2:30 when they go out of school until about 6 or 7, they’re home by themselves without nothing to do and that is a recipe for a disaster when you are talking about teenagers. Then you also have a situation where some of them come from rough situations. We have one kid in particular who we know in a small community who are kids who are most likely at risk and it’s because mom’s in the system, dad’s in the system, brother’s in the system, cousins are in the system. We have one in particular kid who is the only kid in his family who is not in the system and he’s at the Loft every day. That’s basically my view. I can’t tell you exactly why it is but I will just tell you look at the aces and everything you know about the aces. The thing that makes the big difference for these kids who are at risk or the kids who come from these rougher backgrounds or face some of these challenges, if you get them a place where they can just be safe where it’s calm and you have a positive mentor who knows their name, knows what’s going on with their life and every day welcomes them, that makes the difference. I strongly believe that and the research supports it. That’s what we have seen. It’s proven out in our situation.
Audience Question: How is the center staffed and do you provide food and snacks for the kids?
Judge Michael Latham: The center is staffed like Victor used to be a detention center Navajo county. When Navajo County closed, we recruited him over. These are all court staff. Some of them have additional duties. I don’t think I talked about it but the Loft is open, when school’s in session we’re open Monday through Thursday from 2:30 to 9:30 and then on Friday and Saturday we’re open from noon until 11:30 PM. St. John’s has a curfew of midnight. That’s why we did 11:30 to give them a chance to go home and not break curfew. We used to be open on Sunday. We just didn’t have a lot of kids there so we’re not open on Sunday anymore. However, if we know a kid has a situation where they need to come there just to get out of a bad situation at home, they have Victor and JB’s phones. They can just hey can I come then either Paul, Victor or JB will open it and they can come. Again they have that type of personal relationship and understanding of the kids that are there. That we have that option. That’s who staffs it. That’s all court staff. They are all trained, certified, background checked, etc. We have like water and stuff there. We don’t offer snacks. We’re going to do like a vending machine type of thing but there are some neighboring businesses that are within walking distance and the kids usually just go there. We do have a room where if they can bring some food that we can let them heat it up. Obviously, the kitchen as well. We have parties and stuff. We keep them barbecues and stuff. On the daily basis, we don’t have anything other than just water available basically.
Audience Question: If you have youth on probation, are they interacting with the general population with the rest of the community youth?
Judge Michael Latham: Absolutely. Now I tell you, I could walk over there and I would not know who is on probation and who is not. That’s intentional. No one would know whether or not a kid’s on probation. I guess if they told somebody they were. We don’t tell kids they have to go there as part of probation. We don’t want it to be an assignment. A big part of that is because it integrates. If you have a situation where the kid is sort of tagged as a kid who is in trouble at school right? They are putting in in-school suspension and you’re continually sort of segregating them off and identifying them as a bad kid, right? This model is I can’t tell you who’s on probation, most people there wouldn’t be able to tell you who’s on probation, there’s no distinction so they’re there just like everybody else is there. I know we have kids on probation there. I think some of the kids that are there pretty regularly some of them are in that situation. A lot of these kids especially if we get into 8th graders or 9th graders who are kids that we would have known given their history, or their family history, these kids would’ve been at risk they’re at the Loft. They are not on probation. They are not getting in trouble. It’s a very intentional thing that this is a community resource. This is not a probation resource even though court staff and probation people kind of implemented it. A lot of that was again because we were looking for better options compared to what we used to have.