Sussex County Detention Alternatives Program Presents at 65th Annual New Jersey Association of Counties "Celebration of County Government" Conference
(Newton, NJ) The Sussex County Detention Alternatives Program was selected for a workshop at the 65th Annual New Jersey Association of Counties "Celebration of County Government" Conference. Stephen Gruchacz, Administrator for the Sussex County Department of Human Services; Christine Florio, Director for the Division of Community and Youth Services; and Detention Alternatives staff, Kristen Thompson, Program Coordinator and Mark Turtur, Supervisor of Operations presented on Thursday, May 7, 2015, at Caesar's in Atlantic City. In an interactive panel setting, Gruchacz, Florio, Thompson and Turtur presented specific facts about the Detention Alternatives Program in Sussex County, which included information on why the program is so successful in reducing secure detention numbers, and they discussed the reasons why the Detention Alternatives Program is unique to similar programs throughout the state.
Mr. Gruchacz opened the presentation by giving statistics on the annual savings realized when the decision to close and regionalize the Youth Shelter and Juvenile Detention Center were made by County Administration and the Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The Youth Shelter closed in 2008, and the Juvenile Detention Center was closed in 2009, which set in motion the launch of the Detention Alternatives Program in Sussex County. He reported that between 2009 and 2015 by implementing shared services agreements between county governments and the establishment of the Detention Alternatives Program, the County of Sussex has saved $4,711,476.00.
Ms. Florio explained that the difficult decisions made in 2008 and 2009 were not just about cost savings and fiscal responsibility. The focus was and still is on the children and families in the community. There was a movement throughout the State of New Jersey to actively support families and children in their homes whenever possible, utilizing community-based services. By Sussex County establishing a Detention Alternatives Program in which youth can remain in their own homes, connected to their own schools and informal supports, county government was being responsive to the community's needs. Non-violent youth offenders were able to remain in the community and receive rehabilitative services. For the years 2009 through 2014, admissions to the Juvenile Detention Center decreased from 98 to 29, and the length of stay decreased by 32%. The Detention Alternatives Program has had a direct impact on these significant numbers. To date 232 families have been served, with an average of 87% youth successfully supervised in their homes, while being connected to community services.
Ms. Thompson and Officer Turtur explained program specifics including the mission, goals and objectives and admission process. They detailed the comprehensive continuum of care for juveniles at risk of or currently involved in the court system including the two programs under the umbrella of the Detention Alternatives Program, which are the Home Detention Program and the Home Supervision Program. Officer Turtur explained that youth court-ordered to the Home Detention Program are equipped with a tamper-proof electronic monitoring unit, constructed with delicate fiber optics on their ankle, otherwise known as a "tracker," which enables staff to have knowledge of the youth's whereabouts twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, on a minute by minute basis through a GPS system.
Sussex County's Detention Alternatives Program is unique in numerous ways including its daily face to face in home and in the community case management component, its emphasis on connecting youth to social services programs and local support systems, provision of transportation services, and the participation and active role of the multi-disciplinary team in reviewing involved youth. Vital members of this team are the Juvenile Detention Officers, who provide the necessary secure transports to and from court and appointments, as well as provide security for detained youth while at court, at appointments and during emergency room visits.
In addition, the Sussex County Detention Alternatives Program is positively recognized because it operates a 24/7 active monitoring program, the only one of its kind in the state. As Thompson stated, "If an emergency or family crisis occurs at 3 a.m. on a Saturday morning, we are not waiting until Monday morning at 9 a.m. to respond, but we are immediately dispatching a team to the home." Staff is on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The Sussex County Department of Human Services has future plans for this highly successful Detention Alternatives Program to expand services for an underserved aging out population, composed of young adults 18 through 21 years of age, as well as provide assistance in navigating the social services system for families through shared services under the Department through the Transitional Care Program. For more information about the Sussex County Detention Alternatives Program, please contact Stephen Gruchacz, at (973) 579-0559 or firstname.lastname@example.org.