Fewer Kids Fill Defendant Seats in Faulkner County Courtrooms

"Juvenile justice reform matters now more than ever."

CONWAY, Ark. - New statistics show a drastic dip in the number of kids filling the defendant seats in Faulkner County courtrooms. 

The circuit judge in charge credits, in part, a new risk assessment pilot program the court started using in late 2015. 

"Juvenile justice reform matters now more than ever," said Judge Troy Braswell. "This has been a game changer."

Since 2015, the county has seen 25 percent fewer kids going to local jail, 31 percent going to the Department of Youth Services and even fewer reoffending. 

There has also been a seven percent reduction in charges filed against juveniles. 

"What that means is we're giving kids an opportunity to get it right and when they get it right, they're not coming back," Braswell said. "That's a big deal."

However, the juveniles who are still getting it wrong are also starting to get more help.  

Judge Braswell said most appear in front of him for drug, fighting and property damage charges, and most don't have support from their families or positive interactions with their peers.

"There's a lack of parents and a lack of parenting," Braswell said. "They're not asking their kids the tough questions or telling them that they love them and spend time with them. So many of our kids don't even understand that they, too, can succeed. If we can just give them that little light of hope, we can watch them flourish into something amazing." 

Judge Braswell and the community have established partnerships to open juveniles' eyes to possibility.

Centennial Bank supports their teen court, UCA and Hendrix students mentor and tutor kids, and local businesses hire them. Members of the community also run a girl's book club, boy's boxing program and ACT prep classes.  

"The statistics are clear that when juveniles have a mentor or somebody that's asking them how their day went, that makes a difference," Braswell said. "That matters because they realize someone cares for them. We all have a role to play. I'm honored to play mine. It does take time, but it's worth it." 

Judge Braswell said it's up to those who hold the juveniles' fate in their hands to lead the charge, filling up courtrooms not with more people but more promise. 

"It's what gets me up in the morning and keeps me up late at night," he said. "We've got fantastic judges across the state who are ready to work and roll up their sleeves. That's what it's going to take. It's time to get off the sidelines and be engaged."

Faulkner County is one of five pilot programs in the state. Judge Braswell said five more will jump on board next month. 

He also serves the state as chair of the Youth Justice Reform Board and member of a specialty court committee that analyzes change in uniform policies and procedures for specialty courts, including veteran and juvenile drug courts. 

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