Portage County Probate Court Works to Rehabilitate Troubled Youth

Juvenile crime rates in Portage County climbed in the past year despite rehabilitation efforts from the juvenile/probate division of the Portage County Common Pleas Court.

In 2017, the juvenile/probate division had 619 cases. That’s an increase from the 2016 count of 531 cases. Offenses range from murder to assault to truancy and tobacco offenses.

Youths who embroil themselves in cases relating to any of these charges may find themselves in the office of Chief Probation Officer Jeff Cunningham.

“It can be difficult,” he said. “You see all of the kids that don’t necessarily go on and succeed as adults, and you never really know what happens to the ones that were successful.”

Complaint

These can be filed by law enforcement, the prosecutor’s office or detention facilities.

Clerk’s Office

The office completes a background check and forwards the info the the director of youth rehabilitation.

Director of Youth Rehabilitation

The director of youth rehabilitation decides whether or not to process the case formally or informally.

When a case enters the juvenile court, Director of Youth Rehabilitation Lenny Sorboro has to decide whether to process the case formally or informally. Sorboro takes into consideration the offender’s age, the circumstances of the offense, nature and extent of the harm to the victim and attitude toward law enforcement, among other factors.

If the complaint is filed informally, the complaint goes to the diversion program, where the juvenile and their family meet with an intervention specialist to correct the delinquent behavior.

If filed formally, the case goes to the Clerk’s Office, where it begins adjudication. Consequences include:

  • Restitution
  • Community service
  • Electronic monitoring
  • Probation services
  • Substance abuse services
  • Psychological services
  • Detention
  • Commitment to a state-operated correctional facility for a minimum of six months 

For the most part, Sorboro estimates high rates of success in these programs — up to 90 percent of juveniles can stay in the community instead of going to a detention facility. 

But about 8 percent of youth don’t respond to the rehabilitation opportunities offered. Even so, for Sorboro, success is a term with a dynamic definition. If a student is going to school three or four days a week when previously they attended only one or two — or none at all — then that’s success.

“We’re not miracle workers here. We’re just not,” he said.

 

And, despite the recent climb in the quantity of cases, it’s an improvement from numbers in the late 1990s that were double today’s. However, Sorboro notes, today’s cases are more complex.

For example, the opioid crisis doesn’t stick to just adults.

“Substance abuse is our biggest issue, probably, on probation,” Cunningham said. “It’s what we file on most in terms of probation violations.”

To address the growing issue, the department implemented a program called Cognitive Behavior Intervention for Substance Abuse. The program aims to use a therapeutic approach to interventions and is directed by facilitators who are specially trained and certified in the methodology.

“We’ve seen some of these kids… in their adolescence, they didn’t make it to 25,” Sorboro said. “Some didn’t make it to 19.”

Another program the department uses is called Girls Circle. It’s an eight-week program focused on female youth that meets once a week. Topics include building trust, goal setting, body image and dating violence.

Some successes remain in the minds of the probation officers. Assistant Chief Probation Officer Rory Franks recalled one case in which a youth underwent intensive probation and other interventions and moved on. That person now manages a manufacturing plant.

“I see it more so when you bump into them, and: ‘Hey Mr. Franks! How you doing? Yeah I remember you! Hey, I’ve got a job, I’ve got a couple kids….’  You know?” he said. “That’s the cases, that if they remember you when they see you and they speak to you and they tell you that life is good, then that’s what I’m hoping to hear. That sticks out to me.”