WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County Judge William H. Amesbury knows what it’s like in the trenches.
During a meeting Monday with representatives from agencies that provide services to juveniles, Amesbury reflected on his many years working in the mental health system, from the evolution of medical treatments to long nights staffing a crisis hotline.
That’s why Amesbury, who took over as administrator of juvenile court at the beginning of the year, summoned nearly 30 delegates from 14 different agencies to meet with himself and fellow juvenile court Judge Jennifer L. Rogers to discuss how the judiciary can better work with bodies across the county to serve the needs of young people.
“I need to know what you need,” Amesbury told his guests during the gathering in Courtroom A at Penn Place in Wilkes-Barre.
In a discussion that lasted more than an hour, talk swirled from early intervention and the importance of cross-agency cooperation to the need for reaching out not just to juveniles, but also their families.
Among the agencies represented were the Family Service Organization of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Catholic Social Services, Northeast Counseling Services, Luzerne County Juvenile Probation, Victims Resource Center, Luzerne County Children and Youth Services and Wyoming Valley Alcohol and Drug Services.
Amesbury asked each of the agencies to designate a representative who will serve on an action panel that will work with him and the court system.
The judge also said he has reached out to seven area school districts and their solicitors, as well as representatives from the state Department of Public Welfare and Department of Education to better coordinate on issues related to working with juveniles.
The point, Amesbury said, is changing lives as well as reforming a system that is a costly one for county and state taxpayers: 70 to 8o percent of the prison population is known to suffer from substance addictions or emotional disorders. Helping to identify and treat such issues in juveniles can stem the tide of people languishing in prison as adults at the public’s expense, he said.
“If we can control our prison population, we can control our budget,” Amesbury said.
But, Amesbury and Rogers stressed, the biggest issue is how to best serve youths and families — when come into contact with the court system, but ideally before that.
“This truly is a team approach, trying to be proactive instead of reactive,” Rogers said, adding that the law isn’t always about punishment, but helping those who have problems to find their way to the right path.
“If you don’t have the right picture in your head, you don’t know how to change it,” she said.