Using federal grant money, the Office of the State’s Attorney for Anne Arundel County is hoping to reduce school expulsions and juvenile crime by hiring a social worker who would connect at-risk youth with support services.
A social worker hired under the State’s Attorney’s Office’s new Juvenile Justice Therapeutic Crisis Intervention program, funded by a U.S. Department of Justice’s Innovation Prosecution Solutions grant of nearly $178,000, will seek out students suspended from the county’s public schools and assist them with resources in an attempt to keep expulsions and juvenile incarceration down, county State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess said.
The prosecutor said she has been trying to secure funding for the office to hire a youth-focused advocate for years, following her time on juvenile trial teams where she said she “started to see the trajectory of how kids get into trouble.
“The one indicator that’s very, very clear is when kids start to get into trouble at school,” Leitess said. That can be a sign of at-home pressures, such as physical abuse or trauma, which can lead to juvenile delinquency behaviors, she added.
More than 6,000 of the 80,000-plus students at Anne Arundel County Public Schools faced in- or out-of-school suspensions during the 2019-20 school year, according to data collected by the Maryland State Department of Education. The previous school year, before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled in-person classes, there were more than 9,500 suspensions.
During the 2020-21 school year, when most students were learning at home, 82 county students were suspended. Each year, just about half of those suspensions are for attacks, threats or violence.
Under the program, schools would send information on the program to families of students who are suspended from public schools, and families could voluntarily sign on to get connected to resources, such as mental health evaluations and therapy.
While the prosecutor’s office may use other data in the future to find at-risk youth, they are starting out by using school suspensions to identify students who may be most at risk of committing crimes in the future..
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Throughout the county school system, administrators regularly use a variety of student information, including disciplinary records, to identify pupils who need additional support, Anne Arundel County Public Schools spokesperson Bob Mosier said.
That’s with the “overarching theme” of providing services to get kids on the right track, he added.
Leitess noted that by the time juvenile cases reach her office, the youth involved already has a prior record. Diverting them earlier, while they’re in the sixth to ninth grade, can keep them from becoming involved in the justice system in the future, she said.
“If you’re doing poorly in school, it’s kind of like the ‘canary in a coal mine.’ It’s a warning sign to us that it’s time to intervene,” Leitess said.
The grant requires that each month, the advocate gives counseling and mentorship to a total of 20 students and connects them to “holistic services, such as the Anne Arundel County School’s behavioral support services, mental health evaluations and treatment, and trauma informed therapy,” according to the Justice Department.
Leitess said her office wasn’t sure if they would “have the buy-in” from the county’s school system, but has since had a series of meetings setting up plans for the project. Her office also is working with the county police department, which sends its own crisis intervention team into schools.
This fiscal year, only 23 other jurisdictions received the Department of Justice’s competitive innovative prosecution grants, which aim to reduce crime by encouraging local-level prosecutors to use data in public safety initiatives. Anne Arundel County was the only Maryland jurisdiction to receive a grant during the past round of funding.