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Weitzel: Partnership offers reforms for juvenile justice system

Over the past year, I have been privileged to be part of a new initiative in partnership between the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the MacArthur Foundation. The initiative, Models for Change – System Reforms in Juvenile Justice, is long overdue and is needed to make fundamental changes in juvenile justice.

What is the purpose of models for change? First, let me give you a little background on it. The program’s goal is to increase the leadership role of state and local law enforcement executives to effectively address systematic juvenile justice issues as well as improve local responses to youth offenders.

Sounds like a lot — well, it is. There has not been a fundamental change nationwide in the juvenile justice system for far too long.

Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to speak on behalf of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the MacArthur Foundation along with other individuals. Those outstanding individuals include Aviva Kurash, senior program manager for the International Chiefs of Police Association; Susan M. Broderick, project director for the Georgetown University Center for Juvenile Justice Reform; and Morris Copeland, director of the Miami/Dade County Juvenile Service Department. Together we have traveled to Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M., and San Diego, Calif., in an effort to teach and persuade law enforcement executives to support the MacArthur Foundation’s initiative for models for change.

In 1899, Illinois was the first state to establish a separate court system for young offenders. It is still based on the widely held belief that juveniles who commit crimes are often also the victims of families or systems that fail to support them.

Additionally, it is based on the fact that their moral compass is less developed than that of adults. Law enforcement leaders need to continue to lead the way in juvenile justice reform.

Police chiefs, sheriffs, other law enforcement executives and leaders throughout the United States must speak up for immediate change in the juvenile justice system.

Over the next year, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the MacArthur Foundation project will conduct a national survey of law enforcement leaders, holding a national policy summit as well as developing a juvenile justice leadership institute for training. The reform that is being brought forward is for juvenile offenders who commitstatus offenses or misdemeanors. It does not include juvenile offenders who commit violent felony acts.

As citizens, it is time to demand change in the juvenile justice system and work toward the reform being proposed by the IACP and the MacArthur Foundation. Models for Change is the starting point.

Tom Weitzel is the chief of police for the village of Riverside

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