Juvenile Court Director Terry Gallaher told partners in the Tennessee Targeted Community Crime Reduction Grant on Tuesday at the juvenile detention center that the grants primarily funded counseling services for families in juvenile court.
“They were fairly effective. There were probably five case workers with five to seven cases per person,” he said. “When the funding went away, Mike Ream (assistant director) and I sat down with our staff and came up with some ideas.”
One of the ideas was to entice a private sector agency into providing service. In the meantime, they also discovered TennCare covered counseling to families who met certain criteria.
Juvenile staff asked Cumberland Hall of Chattanooga to provide a program with three components: caseworkers; mental health, and drugs and alcohol.
“It ended up that juvenile court became the drug-and-alcohol component,” he said.
Cumberland Hall went out of business in 2010. Camelot joined the juvenile center and eventually rented space to it for about $2,000 a month.
“All of a sudden we realized we were making money instead of the county paying out money,” Gallaher said.
Camelot began with two caseworkers. It now has 20 caseworkers in the field, is funded by TennCare and has become a resource for campus court and family court. General Sessions Judge Mike Sharp made two referrals to the behavioral unit.
“When we started working with families and dealing with issues in the home and dealing with mental health and broken homes, all of a sudden, we saw a decrease in the number of kids on probation and going into state custody,” he said.
Much of the effort directed into the behavior unit and into families was very effective. Officials also noticed the case load on probation offices also went down.
“Probation numbers were cut in half. Kids going into state custody at Taft and Mountain View, those numbers were cut in half. Recidivism was probably cut in half,” he said. “It was a no-brainer. We were making money, it was very effective and almost every child is referred to the behavior unit.”
The family goes through an assessment to determine if it needs mental health or drug and alcohol counseling. Caseworkers go into homes and make recommendations to the court and then the judge issues court orders.
“We just kind of married it all together and came up with something very effective,” he said. “We started dealing with the root of problems instead of just the symptoms.”
Prior to that, the juvenile center worked with adult probation on an adolescent level.
“Kids committed a crime, misdemeanor or status offense and went before a judge who placed them on probation. If they broke probation a couple of times, you keep incarcerating them and eventually send them to a juvenile correction facility until they are ready for the adult system,” Gallaher said.
Since officials have begun taking a holistic approach to addressing family problems, Gallaher has learned most youth offenders are simply angry.
“That anger is manifested in a lot of different ways,” he said.
One partnership Gallaher is proud of is the one formed with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. About 10 coaches visit the center each Monday morning and talk to each individual child. He would like to see more churches involved in ministering to the children.
“What you’ve got here are kids that are angry and they are frustrated for a thousand different reasons and somehow, you’ve got to figure out how you are going to affect and change their lives,” Gallaher said.
He said 80 percent of the teens who arrive at the center are not criminals. They are not attempting to rob a bank or commit murder. There are 20 percent of youth offenders the behavior unit doesn’t help much. He said they continue with their criminal activity and end up in the juvenile correction system and eventully age into the adult system.
“It’s really about relationships and how can you put something back together,” Gallaher said. “What we’re trying to do is figure out how we can be a resource for law enforcement and the school systems. How can we better serve the community? How can were serve the children and make a difference in their lives?”