Judge: County juvenile justice ‘12 steps ahead’

After hearing from juvenile probation officials and a judge, Lycoming County commissioners on Thursday agreed to pay $51,200 to house seven juveniles, whose behavior exhausted all local resources, in a residential treatment facility.

George Junior Republic is a secure remediation campus which works to change juvenile delinquents into functioning members of their community.

Youths who commit multiple offenses such as violent or drug charges for judges to give a court order to place the children into the residential facilities, said Matt Minnier, deputy chief of juvenile probation.

“There’s community based resources that are implemented before we would make a recommendation for residential placement,” he said. “So we’re talking about multiple violations, danger to the community and used on a very limited basis.”

The entire process is integrated through multiple departments “from the front to the back end,” said Minnier.

Even if juvenile probation recommends

residential placement, Judge Joy McCoy said she still occasionally denies the request in order to give the child another chance in the community, though this has a low-success rate.

For the youths who do fail to operate without incident, they may be sent to residential facilities, like George Junior Republic.

“(In the facility) they’re told what to do every second of every day,” said McCoy, adding the residents typically do well in that environment.

To return the juveniles back to Lycoming County directly from their regimented stay “sets them up for failure,” she said.

Instead, George Junior Republic offers a step-down program. Residents stay with eight other juveniles as well as a house parent and learn daily responsibilities, such as going and returning from the on-campus high school.

Far from nonnegotiable, if the county juvenile probation officers and children and youth services — who visit the facility every month — notice mismanaged care or issues, they can tell George Junior Republic to make changes.

“The hottest topic right now across the state is placement facilities and the use of placement facilities and really pushing to use community. I believe our county is 12 steps ahead of many other counties in the fact that we have all the services here to do that,” said McCoy.

As more counties move away from residential treatment, many facilities are starved for juveniles and willing to make changes to keep their business afloat, she said.

Commissioner Tony Mussare said he received an email in less than 24 hours from the mother of a previous resident, who lauded George Junior Republic as changing her son’s life.

“We don’t try to question the integrity of who’s running everything,” he said. “We question because, obviously, the cost.”