(Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part series on Carson City Juvenile Probation Services).
Carson City Juvenile Probation Services has recently looked to the great outdoors to turn around youths’ lives.
One of the department’s newest programs is its Leadership and Resiliency Wilderness program it holds in the summer. Entering its second year, youths will spend the summer in a physically intensive program that will help teach them skills such as teamwork, leadership, healthy habits and respect.
Each youth receives a gym membership and workout clothes, and each morning the youth and juvenile officers in charge start at the gym to learn about staying healthy and taking care of their bodies. From there, they have class sessions in the afternoon with teachers or guest speakers who help them learn about valuable lessons such as job skills, interviewing and open discussion about issues they may be having.
“Research has shown that Wilderness programs for youth develop intense interpersonal relationships,” said Deputy Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Ali Banister. “It gives kids an opportunity to overcome significant emotional and physical challenges and the encouragement to gain a greater understanding of oneself by growing emotionally and intellectually.”
They also participate in activities, including a low-ropes course in which all members have to work together to pass, and learn a lot of communication and teamwork skills that many of the juveniles hadn’t been taught before.
“Communication is extremely important on the ropes course, and an often times is forced, because they lack proper communication skills in their lives,” Banister said. “When they have to work together and communicate, for adolescents, especially troubled adolescents, it is huge for them to have to use other people to get through the course.”
Every Friday the youth and officers do a day or overnight hike to put their newly learned skills to the test and see what they have learned in the program. The department provides all equipment from tents to hiking boots to mountain bikes for the kids.
“Purposely taking a youth out of their environment and forcing them to reflect on life in an outdoor setting is a powerful experience,” Banister said. “It allows them to break down barriers and provides kids with opportunities they have never experienced before. Being able to work with others as a team in a setting free of distractions, allows for considerable growth to occur in short periods of time. These effects can be both dramatic, long lasting and life changing.”
She said it’s often life changing for the kids because a lot of them are from families who lack the interest or money to be able to explore nature, and for many of them, this is the first time they get to do activities such as hiking, biking or white water rafting. This year, Banister hopes to take the kids out on a four day, 40-mile hike.
“The change we see in some of these kids is incredibly rewarding because we see that they get a sense of accomplishment by doing these treacherous hikes and bike rides,” Banister said. “It is a huge growth for everyone, the officers included.”
Though the juvenile system’s goal is to provide intervention to the youths first, juveniles can be sent to the Carson City Detention Center though it’s usually for a short duration of time.
Unlike the adult system, juveniles can’t post bail and only stay in custody if they’re a risk to themselves or the community, a flight risk, have a history of not complying with supervision or brought in on a warrant. Many of those kids are still only housed temporarily, usually until they’re transferred to a residential program. Depending on the situation, a juvenile can be sent to youth corrections or if necessary, to a residential drug, alcohol, mental health or behavioral residential program.
“The main focus is psychiatric, the doctor is on site and medication management is in place to stabilize, manage and work on skill development to try to work those issues so they can have more likelihood of being successful when they return home and back to the community,” Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Ben Bianchi said.
However, the detention center isn’t like the county jail. The staff are all youth counselors, not sworn officers, and are there to provide a high structure, high supervision and high accountability environment for the students to thrive and succeed in by learning better self-control and self-monitoring skills.
ROLE OF A JPO
The role of a Juvenile Probation Officer is to provide supervision to the youths and create a relationship with them and their families to help steer them away from negative decisions and help provide a basis to achieve success in their lives.
“It is building relationships,” Bianchi said. “A lot of times there are barriers that we have to strip away in order to have that relationship with these kids and families, because they come into this setting scared, not trusting, and we have to engage with them to make them understand that a negative behavior brought you into this system, but this system is about helping you be successful as a young person, as an adult and get your education and skill development.”
The Juvenile Probation Officers provide supervision to the youths and develop a case plan with them to help them be successful on probation and after. When juveniles come in to meet with the officer, the officer can do drug testing, school visits, home visits and social media checks to make sure they are complying with the conditions of their probation. Often times, the officer tries to talk with the juvenile to see how they’re doing with their families, school and life to make sure everything is going well, Banister said.
“Just making the contact with the kids really meaningful and building a relationship with them is important because a lot of times kids are coming in and their PO is like another member of the family,” Banister said. “We wear many hats, as a probation officer. You are a counselor, you are a probation officer, sometimes you have to be an enforcer. There are so many things you have to do as a probation officer and you better be good at all of them. So, you better have a friendly personality but be firm when you need to. Our team at Juvenile Services does just that, from detention to probation. They wear all the hats and represent the City of Carson well.”
Probation officers can supervise juveniles up to the age of 21 if the youth isn’t completing their conditions correctly and Bianchi said they still keep working with the kids they need to up to that point.
“At the end of the day, we have legal jurisdiction until 21,” Bianchi said. “But we keep supporting them and our goal is to keep them out of the adult system and we put many young adults through programs after their 18th birthday in hopes to continue to work with them so that they don’t pick up an adult charge and then continue down in the adult system. People don’t realize how much legal authority we have on kids because it’s not close ended, You have to earn your way out of juvenile probation.”
Though, Bianchi said they often don’t see repeat juvenile offenders.
“That is what we try to do from the probation side of things, we put those supports and supervision in place to get that child to think before they make their next poor decision,” Bianchi said. “A majority of the kids that we work with know right from wrong, but they just get caught up in the moment, they are adolescents. And a majority of them, that we touch, we touch once. Kids do stupid things, sometimes they just need a little punishment, communication and support.”