Hiring Freeze Could Affect the Juvenile Court System

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The Iowa Judicial Branch will soon freeze hiring to make up for a shortfall in the next fiscal year's budget.

The hiring freeze comes as the court system is already facing widespread staff shortages, and the juvenile court system could feel some of the worst effects, as well as tax payers.

Juvenile court officers say without filling their open positions, they may be seeing double the amount of cases when the new budget takes effect July 1.

That means less time with each case and a lesser chance that they can successfully help a child, and that means more money spent by taxpayers.

“We take one of those high risk students and are effective with that student, and we will save the tax payer approximately $7 million per student in the course of their lifetime,” said Mike Jennings, juvenile court officer 3.

That $7 million includes court costs, attorney fees and the cost of holding the youth in detention. That's compared to the $5.4 million the Iowa Supreme Court requested in their new budget.

That money was denied forcing the juvenile system to double down.

“With having more and more cases, we do not, or cannot for the sheer sake of time provide, what I feel  would be the necessary services to be able to effectively treat and manage and correct some of the behaviors we see in this office,” said Jennings.

That's on top of the long hours officers already put in.

“I put in between 100, 110 hours every two weeks. As a salaried employee, it’s not always great. But I’m afraid with more cases the 110 is going to be 120 or 130 hours,” Jennings said.

Those involved in rehabilitating children know that while face-to-face interaction will be shorter, logistics will take longer.

“Lots of things can’t happen without a court order, and they can’t happen without the judicial process running its course.  So if all those things are delayed, conceivably, a child would stay here longer,” said Stephen Quirk, CEO of Youth Emergency Services and Shelter.

. “All of us, we want to keep kids out of jail and keep kids out of higher levels of care. So if there are delays in those things or a lack of resources to focus on those things, in essence the child suffers,”

The court system has planned ahead and set a list of priorities if the begin to get bogged down. Juvenile cases will be in the upper tier, rather than say small claims, which expect to be delayed.

As for the funding, one state senator says that all publicly funded areas of government are tight on money. Department of Transportation is facing a similar hiring freeze.

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