Headline: State takes healthy chunk out of juvenile diversion program
SUMMIT COUNTY – Last year, the district attorney’s juvenile diversion program kept 28 Summit County youths out of the court system, and away from the permanent stigma of a criminal record. Districtwide – an area that includes Summit, Lake, Eagle and Clear Creek counties – it helped 113 young people.
But last week, Gov. Bill Owens delivered it a sharp blow by cutting its budget. Effective July 1, District Attorney Mike Goodbee’s program will lose about $22,000 – between 35 and 40 percent of its total budget.
“We’ve got about a 98 percent success rate with this program,” Goodbee said. “It keeps a lot of cases out of court that probably shouldn’t be in court.”
In Goodbee’s office, three juvenile officers screen cases to determine which juveniles are available for the program. Those who are asked to sign a three-way contract with a juvenile officer, the juvenile and his or her parents agreeing to the terms. If the youngster sticks to the contract for a maximum of six months, the charges against him or her are dropped.
It’s not a program for serious offenders.
“Remember the scene in “Stand by Me’ where the guys are out drinking beer and smacking mailboxes with a baseball bat? That’s the kind,” Goodbee said. “If you’re talking a knife to the throat, no, we’re not going to look at that seriously for juvenile diversion. Or sexual assault. Crimes perpetrated against people usually aren’t going to make it.”
Contracts are tailor-made for each person. Some may be required regular urinary analysis, others mental health counseling, still others payment to repair any property damage they may have done, and most, some form of public service.
“It really gives them a chance to make it right,” Goodbee said. “Our recidivism rates after six months are really pretty good. Last year, we had one failure within six months out of all our contracts.”
Columbine High School shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris once sailed through Jefferson County’s juvenile diversion program, but Goodbee said they’re atypical examples. The two had broken into a car, a fairly minor offense that qualified them for the program. And while they were model participants, Goodbee said, their minds even then were on wreaking more far-reaching havoc.
“They were very calculated in their deception,” he said.
Goodbee’s office is hardly the only one affected. Juvenile diversion programs are offered statewide, with some offices depending more on state funds and others less for their programs. The DA believes his office can survive the cutbacks. While he’s already locked into his 2002 budget, the year is half over.
“I have a variety of ways I can fill those funds next year, so the crunch time is the next six months,” he said. “I’m going to sit down on Tuesday with my financial administrator and say, “Where can we tighten up so we don’t have a loss of this service?’ The roof is not on fire yet.
“I don’t blame the governor. I’m not sure the Legislature did their job.”
In 2003, Goodbee hopes he can make up for the missing funds with grants. And if nothing else, he’ll go to county commissioners in all four counties and ask them if they want the juvenile diversion program to continue.
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