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JoCo Jail Diversion Program

IOWA CITY, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) -- Johnson County could soon be the first community in the state to put a program in place that would keep kids who break the law out of jail, and hopefully, away from a life of crime.

The first iteration of the proposed jail diversion program is very specific: it would take youth in the Iowa City Community School District who are involved in a situation where they would get charged with a disorderly conduct misdemeanor, and divert them from the court system, and into a robust social service system.

The goal is changing the culture of incarceration. In Johnson County, African American youth are eight times more likely to be arrested than white youth.

That statistic is one reason why last year's Justice Center vote failed, it was the reason for the first annual Disproportionate Minority Contact Forum held Thursday, and it leaves many asking: "I get it. But what do I do about it?" said Judge Deb Minot, at the forum.

After participating in a seminar on the issue at Georgetown University last year, county officials, school district employees, and Iowa City Police came up with an answer.

"Our team sees no reason why, within a year or so, all first time simple misdemeanor cases that are charged, again, to juveniles in Johnson County, can't be considered for an appropriate diversion program," Minot said.

That means youth are kept away from courts, and hopefully, away from becoming a statistic.

"Clearly the data shows, if a juvenile goes to detention, there's a likelihood that they're not going to graduate from high school, and a likelihood that we are going to see them later on in the adult criminal justice system," said Iowa City Police Lt. Doug Hart.

"If you can't control the front end, then what we find is that every step of the process, the numbers get increasingly disproportionate. So how do we start at the beginning?" Minot said.

Frederick Newell, the founder of the Dream Center, thinks the program is a good idea, but also thinks the beginning should be found in the communities that would be most impacted.

"And that's going to take getting out into those different communities we're discussing today to be able to be a part of the conversation, so that they can put input into whether or not these are the issues they see, or whether or not this program will be something youth or families will be interested in participating in," Newell said.

County officials hope to start the program in the Iowa City Community School District this fall. In the first year, it could keep 66 percent of youth out of the juvenile detention system.
 
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