When the Iowa Juvenile Home for delinquent girls was closed in Toledo three years ago, there was understandable concern.
At the time, the home was often described as the “placement of last resort” — a place where judges could send troubled girls whose needs couldn’t be met by foster families or any of the privately operated group homes for youth. It was often seen as the only alternative to sending girls out of state, far from whatever support system they had in Iowa, or steering them into adult court and onto a path where the Department of Corrections would eventually serve as their caretaker.
To help determine how Iowa should handle some of the state’s most troubled girls, the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council helped form a 28-member panel to examine the issue. It was called the Iowa Girls’ Justice Initiative, and last week it issued its final report and recommendations.
Citing the existence of Iowa’s state-run home for boys in Eldora and the absence of a similar facility for girls, the panel is calling for the creation of a “secure facility” — defined under Iowa law as a facility with locked units and/or security fencing around the perimeter — for Iowa girls. One part of the report, authored by the Iowa Task Force for Young Women, argues that “it is imperative that girls are given the same opportunities as high need/high risk boys within the juvenile justice system.”
As reasonable as that might sound, it’s grounded in the absurd notion that incarceration inside a locked, centralized facility is an “opportunity” not to be denied Iowa girls. The trend nationally is to close down locked facilities for youth in favor of cheaper and far more effective youth-advocacy programs and community-based services that are tailored to the individual needs of youth. In fact, the national experts the Iowa Girls’ Justice Initiative panel consulted with are opposed to the creation of a locked facility.
Despite that, the panel report argues that in the absence of a locked facility, Iowa is sending girls out of state and into adult court. That’s not actually the case. According to data from the Iowa Judicial Branch and the state’s Department of Human Services, the number of girls sent to out-of-state facilities (about nine per year) has remained virtually unchanged since the closing of the Toledo home, as has the number of juvenile girls whose criminal cases are directed to adult court (about 60 per year).
Read more here.