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Edward Dolan, who had been the acting commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services, was formally appointed to the post this week.
Dolan takes over as juvenile crime rates across the country are plummeting and fewer Massachusetts juveniles are being committed to DYS custody. According to an annual report, between 2004 and 2009, the number of youths committed to DYS fell more than 40 percent.
"It's actually a nationwide trend," Dolan told WBUR Morning Edition host Deborah Becker. "It's almost been counter-intuitive. ... In the difficult economy that we've gone through, you would have expected just the opposite. That's been sort of the historical trend previous to this."
For such drops in crime rates and the number of kids committed to DYS, Dolan credits early-intervention efforts.
"I think it begins with the early intervention, the nutrition programs, the better job of identifying behavioral issues, and responding better with youth further upstream," he said.
Early-intervention efforts, with family and community members, were not always the focus of the department, said Dolan, who has been with DYS for 15 years.
“It was sort of the legacy of the reform school," he said. "Even though we closed the reform schools in the ’70s, we really hadn’t made the shift to the kind of thinking that underlies the transformational change of positive adult relationships."
He said now, the juveniles that are committed to DYS “basically fail up to us."
"We were, in some ways, the default placement for kids that were sort of difficult to manage in other settings. … [Now], we’re part of a collaboration … to try to not bring kids into the system, to not use the Department of Youth Services as a default placement for kids that really have mental health issues.”
With the reduction in youths committed, the juvenile justice agency has taken about 800 beds offline and reduced about 800 staff positions over the last two or three years, Dolan said.
However, funding for one early-intervention program, an initiative started by the governor last year that would set up centers in the state's 10 communities with the highest rates of youth violence, remains uncertain. Dolan said legislators are currently debating funding for the program.
He added that the average annual cost for a youth who is committed to DYS is nearly $100,000.
This program aired on May 18, 2012.
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