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Protect, Promote, and Provide

The Yuma County Juvenile Justice Center traces its origins back to Arizona’s territorial days, a time before the State of Arizona existed.  A reform movement concerned with the treatment of dependent and delinquent youth, which had been sweeping the country during the late 18th century, led the creation of the first modern juvenile court in Illinois in 1899.  Arizona’s territorial legislature followed in 1907 with the creation of its own juvenile court as part of the state judiciary.

Over fifty years later, Yuma County’s juvenile court was on the threshold of the phenomenal growth that would propel it into the 21st century.  In the late 1950’s, James Daily was the probation officer for the county.  He and his assistant, Janice Hays, were responsible for probation services for all adult and juvenile offenders in the entire county, which included what is now La Paz County.  In addition, they provided adoption services and investigated all child abuse and neglect cases.  Their office was located in the basement of the historical Superior Court building on 2nd Avenue.  Detention of juveniles was provided in a small facility located on the current site of the Juvenile Justice Center on Avenue B, which was run by a pair of house parents.

In 1965, Robert Araza, a former deputy sheriff, was appointed as the chief juvenile probation officer and court referee.  It was during his tenure that Yuma County made its next giant leap into the modern era, when a grant was received in the late 1960’s from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) of the Department of Justice in the amount of $135,000.  This grant was to finance the construction of a state of the art facility, which would house all juvenile court services under the same roof for the first time.  In October of 1971, the new 9,000 square foot complex was dedicated on the site of the old detention home, featuring a courtroom, probation offices and a 22 bed detention center.  There was a staff of 24, including two probation officers, three clerks and 12 detention officers.  In its annual report, the LEAA cited the new juvenile court center as a “model institution.”

In 1974, Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), which led to the creation of the Child Protective Services and a separation of child abuse and neglect services from those of probation.

Following Robert Araza’s appointment to the State Board of Pardons and Parole in 1975, Judge William W. Nabours appointed Larry Mosley, a former police and juvenile probation officer, as Chief Juvenile Probation Officer.  In 1977, the probation staff was increased from two to three, and in 1979, a Northern Yuma County probation office was opened two days a week for diversions, traffic hearings and reporting by probationers.

The 1980’s were a time of great change for the juvenile court, beginning in 1982, when voters in northern Yuma County chose to split away, forming La Paz County and selecting Parker as the county seat.  Yuma County was one of the four original counties in the state and, until that time, was the last to retain its original borders.

It was also at this time that the Administrative Office of the Arizona Supreme Court (AOC) began receiving funding from the state legislature to standardize juvenile court and probation standards and services throughout the state.  This led to the provision of the first computer system to all counties in the state in 1985, and the initiation of the Juvenile Intensive Probation Supervision (JIPS) program in 1987.  JIPS initially consisted of one probation officer, one surveillance officer and one vehicle, housed in a remodeled caretaker’s trailer behind the old county hospital.

In 1987, Yuma County was chosen by IBM as a test and demonstration site for a full court-wide automation system.  As the first phase of this project, the juvenile court received a rewritten version of Maricopa County’s Juvenile On-Line Tracking System (JOLTS).  In 1989, the AOC purchased the JOLTS program and modified it for statewide rollout, replacing Yuma County’s pilot version.

There was no slowing down in the 1990’s, either, as the juvenile court continued its practice of implementing new and innovative programs.  The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program was initiated in 1992, and Teen Court began operation in 1993, with the help of the American Legion and students from Cibola High School.  In 1994, the juvenile court partnered with the Crane School District, school districts in south Yuma County and the County School Superintendent to open an alternative middle school in Somerton.

This led to the approval in 1995 by the State Board of Charter Schools of the juvenile court’s application to open a charter school.  Aztec High School opened in the fall of that year with 60 students, and to this day, is the only charter school in this state to be operated by a juvenile court.

In 1995, there were 70 employees working at the Juvenile Court Center, which managed a total budget of $2.4 million.  This was a landmark year for many reasons, including the establishment of the Community Advisory Board and the county-funded expansion of the detention center from 22 to 43 beds.  In addition, the Stop Juvenile Crime initiative was passed by the voters in Arizona, mandating categories of juvenile offenders to be tried in the adult court, opening the juvenile court to the public and establishing community justice boards through the County Attorney’s Office.

In 1999, the Dependency Model Court was established under the Adoption and Safe Families Act to correct problems in the foster care system.  As a result, the AOC provided a dependency module in JOLTS to all juvenile courts in the state.

In 2000, Yuma County voters approved the construction of a new juvenile justice center, along with a federally funded detention center, and construction was begun in 2001.  And, in July of 2002, the new $12 million, 70,000 square foot facility was opened with a staff of 140.

Developing and growing at as rapid a pace as ever, the Yuma County Juvenile Justice Center and its staff continue to adhere to the same pursuit of excellence as their predecessors.

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