When it comes to child welfare, Alabama historically has ranked at or near the bottom of nationwide studies, largely because of its juvenile incarceration rate. With new strategies being put in place in Mobile County and other metropolitan areas of the state, Alabama appears to be turning that around, says an expert quoted by the Mobile Register. “A lot of things happening in Alabama have been getting a lot of attention, even nationally,” said Tim Roche, a consultant with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based research and advocacy organization that studies children’s issues.
For many years, youths were detained in jails or placed in state detention centers at an alarming rate, often with little consideration for the crime committed or the child’s individual circumstances, Roche said. The state has made changes aimed at reversing that trend. Gov. Bob Riley signed a law that prevents juvenile judges from sending children to state schools for having been truant or having run away but not having committed a crime. Roche said juvenile justice reform can occur when local leaders take ownership of the problem, something he believes Mobile County has done better than most. The Casey Foundation chose Mobile as one of four counties in the state to participate in its Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative. Roche has been working with Strickland Youth Center officials to improve the pre-trial detention process. Juvenile Judge Edmond Naman, who has overseen Strickland since his election in 2006, has been working to deflect children away from the detention system and into diversion programs whenever possible. He has implemented a checkup system to keep children from languishing in jail when they might be better served by conditional release.