Friday, October 18, 2013

Douglas County Truancy Diversion: Is It Really Successful?

How do you know when the stakeholders in Nebraska’s “attendance industry” are getting nervous?  When they start giving fluff pieces to the press about how great the “truancy” law and its corresponding diversion programs are.  (see story below)

As the voices for repeal of Nebraska’s “excessive absenteeism” law get louder and louder, those who profit off of our kids will push back harder and harder.  An entire industry has been created as a result of Brad Ashford’s harmful, anti-family law.  This industry consists of social workers, student personnel assistants, judges, county attorneys, attendance officers, and other people who get paid to “help” us improve our kids’ attendance, and their jobs depend on the survival of the law.

I want to say unequivocally that, in my personal opinion, this award and the ensuing press coverage are completely bogus.

Dragging 3,000 kids into the juvenile justice system and then bragging about the 2,800 of them who were “diverted” from prosecution would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.

Let me explain.  In the 2009-2010 school year, before the law took effect which made 20 days of absence from school a crime, the number of children prosecuted by the Douglas County Attorney for truancy was 239.  Those were kids who were truant according to the real definition, absent without their parents’ permission.  In the 2010-2011 school year, after the new law was passed, the number of referrals jumped from 239 to 3,100, a 1,180% increase.  Those 3,100 kids were sorted out by our deputy county attorneys in what resembles a “cattle call.”  They were questioned publicly, pressured to hand over personal medical records, assigned to monitoring, put on diversion for being ill, and offered “voluntary” services under threat of having charges filed and being removed from their home.

At the end of that first year after the law was passed, can you guess how many kids were filed on for actual truancy?  244.

239 truant kids before the law, 244 after.

In this Channel 7 news story, Mary Beth Stranglen, Truancy Coordinator for the Douglas County Attorney’s Office, is touting the success of the diversion program because only 7% of the 3,000 children coming through her office are being sent to court.  I contend that’s because only 7% of those kids were really truant!  Actual truancy has remained pretty stable in our county, yet our tax dollars are being spent on sorting and monitoring and diverting thousands of non-truant children, many whose only “crime” is being sick.  You can’t drag 2,800 innocent kids into the juvenile justice system and then pat yourself on the back for not prosecuting them.  Believe me, that is not an accomplishment to brag about.

And one more comment:  The young lady who was touted as one of the diversion program’s “success” stories appears to be quite the opposite.  Although I'm glad she is back in school and doing well, the fact of the matter is that the diversion program didn’t work for her and she ended up in front of a judge and on probation.  How is that proof of a successful diversion program, which by definition is designed to keep kids out of court?  Give me a break.

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