15 AL counties without diversion programs to help children rehabilitate

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Many children around the state can receive services like counseling, but not all minors who commit certain crimes can stay in their home county and receive them.

If a minor commits a non-violent offense or misdemeanor, a judge could place them in a diversion program. This program allows them to receive resources in their home communities. Resources can include substance abuse and family counseling.

Lowndes County Court Judge Adrian Johnson said putting these programs in rural counties allows kids to stay closer to home.

"That would allow us to keep that child in the home, in the community where studies have indicated that that child has a much better chance of success if we can keep that child in the community," Johnson said.

Johnson said most of the juvenile crimes in Lowndes County are non-violent.

"The majority of the offenses we see are drug-related offenses, harassment, minor assault charges or misdemeanor offenses where kids are being kids," said Johnson. "They're doing dumb things, they're getting into fights, they're having you know, some minor property crime."

He said issues can be addressed without sending kids to the Department of Youth Services.

Fifteen counties in Alabama do not have any diversion programs available. This means some kids in rural areas are being sent to other counties for treatment. Judge Johnson is in a rural county without any of these programs. He said these resources can help address issues at the family level.

"The goal is, of course, to correct the behavior not only of the juvenile, but to ensure that that family has the tools that it needs to succeed," he said. "To look at the children and say if there are behavioral problems that are being exhibited, what's causing those behavioral problems? Is there something in the family dynamic that we can address?"

Department of Youth Services Executive Director Steven LaFreniere is advocating for more programs in rural areas.

"The closer you can provide a service to that child and family, the more effective that service is going to be," LaFreniere said.

Many rural counties do not have these programs because they do not have the funding.

The department was appropriated $1 million that will become available in October. LaFreniere said it is still not enough.

"There is an effort to look at what are the best ways, the most strategic way to make those monies go as far as they can go," he said.

LaFreniere plans for the majority of the money to go toward expanding these programs.

Another option to expand the program is to combine resources.

"We look at things for multi counties so that we can bundle those services and have three or four rural counties that can combine," said Johnson. "The goal is that we won't have to deal with that child in the juvenile justice system and the adult system down the road if that behavior continues in that direction."

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