State gets $3.5 million in grants for automating court records

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri will receive an additional $3.5 million for its continuing effort to automate juvenile court records.

The U.S. Department of Justice recently approved $2.5 million in grants for the state's automation project and another $1 million is included in the federal budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Missouri has already received $11 million in recent years to automate juvenile records.

Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. said the project has become a model for other states.

"Our goal in Missouri is to have the finest juvenile and family courts in the nation," Limbaugh said.

Limbaugh and U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., discussed the automation effort Tuesday during a news conference at the state Supreme Court.

As a former Cape Girardeau County circuit court judge, Limbaugh handled countless cases involving juvenile offenders.

"Mistakes that I made serving in that capacity were due to the fact that I didn't always have complete and total information," Limbaugh said. "This technological advance will allow us to have the kind of information we judges need to make an informed decision and do justice."

While information on adult offenders has long been easily accessible by courts and law enforcement throughout the state, the same has not always been true of juvenile records.

Bond said automation will allow courts and juvenile officers better access to an offender's complete record, including offenses committed in other jurisdictions. Bond said officials have been relying on "good, late 19th-century technology" to deal with a 21st-century problem.

"This money is a safety net that will protect kids who are in trouble while also protecting neighborhoods from juvenile criminals," Bond said.

'Good technology'

The new system is slated to be fully implemented statewide by 2006. In the 32nd Judicial Circuit, which covers Bollinger, Cape Girardeau and Perry counties, automation is expected to be complete by 2004, said Randy Rhodes, the circuit's juvenile officer.

Rhodes said automation will improve the flow of information between various agencies.

"It is good technology, and we are always ready for more," Rhodes said.

When complete, the system will allow for easy access to information by a variety of authorized individuals, including school officials and social service workers.

However, Rhodes said automation is no substitute for good relationships and cooperation between the various agencies who work with and monitor juvenile offenders. He said juvenile officers in the local circuit have always been aggressive in seeking information on youthful offenders and sharing that information with those who have the right and need to know it.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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