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Gov. Carney orders new look at Delaware's juvenile justice system

James Dawson
Delaware Public Media

Gov. John Carney (D) is reviving an advisory council to look at how to give Delaware’s juvenile justice system a makeover.

Originally put together by then Gov. Mike Castle (R) in 1985, the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group will put together recommendations on how to keep kids out of jail and rehabilitate those who are already in the system.

Carney signed an executive order Wednesday reorganizing the group, saying past policies haven’t brought crime rates down.

“I think we’ve been through a cycle of being tougher from an incarceration point of view for juvenile offenders. I think we just need to find better ways to rehabilitate these young people,” he said.

A study by the Delaware Criminal Justice Council found the recidivism for adults stood at about 70 percent in 2009 – with those under 24 among those most likely to re-offend.

The group will look at ways to bring more rehabilitative programs and family counseling initiatives to the community level.

Lisa Minutola with the state public defender’s office has been steadily lobbying for more judicial discretion in juvenile cases and expanding the use of expungements over the past few years.

She says she hopes this new group will find ways to divert kids who’ve gotten into trouble into other state programs – and potentially avoid a criminal record.

“We don’t want to juvenile justice system to be the dumping ground for every problem that a child has. That should not be used as the default,” Minutola said.

A recent assessment from the National Juvenile Defender Center says Delaware “falls short” of fulfilling its constitutional obligations to best represent children accused of crimes.

The center recommends ending the practice of cash bail for minors, cutting out mandatory minimums for juveniles and end the practice of charging kids as adults.

The new group’s report is due to the governor next March.

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