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Can Colorado develop better screening tools for juvenile offenders?

Here's a key problem concerning Colorado justice authorities' initial contacts with juveniles who find themselves in trouble with the law: differential treatment is often doled out to young offenders across the state who have similar profiles and are charged with the same types of crimes.

And that's far from the only concern. Although Colorado criminal law processes feature a juvenile screening process relative to criminal offenses, such a tool is underdeveloped or even absent across large pockets of the state.

That needs to change, say a growing band of reform advocates who see a dire need for material adjustments in Colorado's juvenile justice system.

One high-profile proponent espousing major reform is Gov. John Hickenlooper. The state's chief executive created a state task force some time back aimed at promoting a more centralized and consistent approach to tracking key elements relevant to juvenile crime and positively influencing outcomes. Those include risk-factor assessment, proper placement into diversion programs, appropriate ongoing supervision and training/education.

Hickenlooper strongly urges that new ideas promoting an empirical and unitary system focused upon jail-free alternatives and lower recidivism rates among young offenders be promptly enacted as laws. He is joined by high numbers of Coloradans who believe that more care and research-based effort needs to routinely be on display when adolescents first interact with the justice system. And, ideally, the approach toward juveniles should be consistent across all areas of the state.

"Putting children in confinement should be a last resort," Hickenlooper stated recently.

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