Despite that fact that Iowa is not a hotbed of youth crime, the state arrests about 20,000 juveniles annually. From those arrests Iowa incarcerates about 1,000 young criminals per year.
Unlike adults, these youth are assigned to treatment facilities, not jails. Juvenile Courts have multiple choices for placement of the convicted, but there is an over-arching philosophy of looking for the ‘least restrictive placements.’
You might envision a stairway of possibilities starting with treatments like individual and family counseling that allow youth to remain at home and then stepping up through placement in drug treatment centers, mental health centers, group or Foster homes, and Academies like in Clarinda and Woodward which have more of a ‘boot camp’ attitude.
If nothing has worked, or if the crime is severe, juveniles under age 18 are sent - by court order - to the campuses of last resort: the Eldora State Training School for Boys or the Iowa Juvenile Home for girls in Toledo, Iowa.
(Artwork and music)
Narrator: Guns… gangs … suicide… the devil… death… abuse…
This is the artwork of students from the State Juvenile Home and State Training School for Girls in Toledo, Iowa.
This one is called “Mad Dog.” It reflects the experience of the young artist, who was himself abused and … left in a cage.
Narrator: The kids on this campus seem like any other kids.
The girls giggle and worry about their hair.
The boys talk about climbing mountains.
But, because they’re on this campus, you know there’s more than meets the eye.
All of the 80-or-so residents are here by court order. Some are rightly called juvenile delinquents, and have been convicted of multiple crimes, like assault, drug violations, and burglary. Others are classified as “Children in need of assistance.”
They’re all between the ages of 12 and 18, and have lived an average of 10 other ‘out of home’ places before coming here.
Deb Hanus, Supervisor: This is kind of a last stop before you would look at additional services maybe in the adult system or a child that’s not going to experience a lot of success. We take that really seriously. We tell our kids that. We also let them know that part of our program includes hanging in there with you.
Narrator: As their artwork indicates, most of these students have had a traumatic childhood. The statistics also show a wide range of additional challenges:
More than one fourth have a parent who’s incarcerated, and three-fourths have parents involved in drug or alcohol abuse.
One fourth have had their own substance abuse problems
Most students here would qualify for Special Education, and are 2-3 years behind in school, and one third were not attending school before placement.
One fourth of the students are intellectually low-functioning, with IQs of less than 80.
And, 65% of them have had Mental Health Care placements, and even more, 84%, currently require psychotropic medicines.
Joan Gerbo, Principal: Teachers here are very compassionate. They’re very sensitive to the needs of the student. They’re not here just for their course work. They’re here to help them reach their academic goals but they also understand what the students need emotionally.
Shena, Student: It’s comforting to be here because like there’s a lot of people that is here to understand you.
Jodi Havens, Teacher: I really like working the vocational classes because I see what the deficits are, what kids really need to do. A lot of our kids really have a strong work ethic and we can just see their self esteem just blossom right in front of our eyes once they’re confident and each time we take them and they actually accomplish a task and then think those people are really respectful of me or they really appreciate what I did. You just see them grow. That’s why I really like what I teach because we have a big carrot. They really want to learn.