Denver juvenile justice leaders encourage early intervention as violent crime involving young offenders is on the rise

Denver Youth Programs aims to divert juveniles from the system
Posted at 10:52 PM, Feb 04, 2021

DENVER — The faces and ages behind a crime that killed five people have left many in shock.

Two juveniles have been charged as adults for their roles in an August arson on Truckee Street in Denver's Green Valley Ranch neighborhood. According to Denver7 sources, the crime was retaliation after a drug deal gone awry, but the teens set fire to the wrong home.

According to a report released by Colorado's Division of Youth Services in late January, 41% of young offenders were committed for violent crimes in 2020, a sharp incline from 31% in 2019.

"As someone who is in this industry, that stat is not surprising to me. It is concerning to me," said Patrick Hedrick, director of Denver Public Safety Youth Programs. "We want to make sure that families know there are resources available at no cost."

Hedrick said Denver's Youth Programs represent a variety of efforts that center around diversion.

"There's a couple different programs that we offer, but at the core of what we do is our diversion model. The diversion model is really about identifying what are those root causes that are getting that young person in trouble, whether at school or at home... or [the actions that are] bringing it to the attention of law enforcement." Hedrick said.

Hedrick said after they identify root causes, he and a team of others try to find support and resources through one of their programs or a grassroots coalition partner.

"We work a lot with our community based organizations and really try to get a lot of our families connected back to those organizations that do fantastic work in their community. So that, let's say, for example, a young person is on diversion with us in the courts... eventually they are going to be off diversion, so what we want to try to do is ask, how do we make that connection back to that community for that young person?" Hedrick said. "Connecting kids to caring adults, creating protective environments for young people to be successful and developing their skills."

He added Denver Juvenile Services Center has employees who work six days a week to accept calls and messages from concerned parents.

"Our ultimate goal is to either divert kids away from the juvenile justice system or out of the juvenile justice system at the earliest point possible if they've actually become involved and received a ticket or citation from the Denver Police Department. " Hedrick said.

However, he emphasized that a child or teen doesn't have to have a record for them to help. Early intervention is key to preventing juveniles from being lost to the system.

"Your child doesn't have to be in trouble to get access to these services. It's really important to not hesitate and to not wait." Hedrick said.

Denver Juvenile Services can be reached at (720) 913-8980 or here.