Information lacking on juvenile justice in Ohio, report says

From The Columbus Dispatch Fewer than half of Ohio's county juvenile courts provided a public report on the number and type of cases they handle, despite a state law requiring it, according to a nonprofit advocacy group.

The Juvenile Justice Coalition of Ohio contacted the juvenile courts in all 88 counties last year and found that fewer than half had a publicly available report on their cases.

State law requires each juvenile court to prepare such a report annually and file it no later than June with its board of county commissioners.

The Juvenile Justice Coalition's report calls the lack of data "disturbing" and renews the group's recommendation for Ohio to implement a comprehensive, statewide juvenile-justice data collection system.

"We're spending millions of dollars — we don't even know how many million — on juvenile justice without knowing if we're getting what we're paying for," said Erin Davies, the coalition's executive director.

In central Ohio, Franklin, Fairfield, Madison and Pickaway counties told a representative of the organization late last year that they had no report, she said.

Delaware, Licking and Union counties all had reports that were available online. They were among 42 counties that provided reports to the coalition.

Officials with the Franklin County Juvenile Court, which is known for relying heavily on data to shape its policies and programming, said they have a one-page annual report that complies with state law, but weren't sure why it wasn't made available to the nonprofit group.

"We are really engaged in data collection and a real leader in the type of analysis we do," said Bev Seffrin, deputy director of performance evaluation for the court.

As one of eight Ohio counties that belong to the national Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, funded by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation, the court has a four-person staff devoted to data collection and analysis.

Davies agreed that the Franklin County Juvenile Court has a reputation for being "at the forefront of innovative practices" when it comes to basing its decisions on data analysis. "They could be a model for other counties."

But, she added, "it needs to be publicly available."

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