System of Care ~ School Justice Partnership
In 2016, the School District of La Crosse, City of La Crosse, and La Crosse County signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that established a youth justice partnership designed to improve outcomes for youth, especially youth of color, in our community. A community study from 2008 revealed that not only did our region have a higher rate of juvenile police contact, in general, but that there was also significant, disproportionate police contact occurring for youth of color. The MOU was a systems-level reform designed to change the way school officials, police, and formal services evaluated and responded to youth misbehavior and misconduct.
Adolescent development sometimes results in challenging behaviors in youth including risk-taking, mood swings, challenging authority, and seeking independence. Research indicates that criminalizing this type of behavior can have a negative impact on life outcomes including decreasing the likelihood of graduation and increasing the likelihood of on-going contact with the criminal justice system. With that, the MOU was designed to help professionals better discriminate adolescent behavior or behaviors that warrant help and support from actual criminal behavior. This system identifies a range of “Focus Acts” which are delinquent acts that are better supported and more effectively treated with intervention and a system of graduated sanctions than with court-imposed punishment. This system is not about being “Soft on Crime”, it’s about being “Smart on Crime”.
Students who participate in System of Care wholly avoid any involvement with the youth justice system while they also receive therapeutic interventions to address underlying needs. Once they complete the conditions of their plan, they graduate from the program, and their progress is monitored to make sure they stay successful. System of Care is currently an intervention available at all middle schools and high schools in the School District of La Crosse.