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Archive for Monday, December 28, 1998

LEGISLATURE TO GRAPPLE WITH JUVENILE JUSTICE FUNDING

December 28, 1998

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Funding for programs that aim to curb juvenile crime may be at the forefront of next year's political agenda as a state agency pushes forward with grass-roots efforts.

Twenty-nine judicial districts and 29 reports.

And at least three times that many recommended programs for combating juvenile crime in Kansas.

That is what the state's Juvenile Justice Authority (JJA) will be studying during the next month.

A daunting and time-consuming job, officials said, but the rewards could put the state years ahead of other parts of the country struggling with juvenile crime, which is rising at an alarming rate, they added.

"I think it will be a very exciting time," said Douglas County Assistant Dist. Atty. Shelley Diehl. "This thing's been ongoing for a couple of years ... and now we're looking at funding some of these programs to see how effective they can be."

The state earlier this year asked law enforcement, county and municipal officials in each judicial district to form "community planning teams."

The JJA asked each team to compile a report citing measures they believe would be effective in combating juvenile crime in their areas in three categories: sanctions for juvenile offenders, intervention programs and prevention programs.

The Seventh Judicial District, comprised of only Douglas County, identified several possible programs in each of the areas, including developing a first-time offender program for juvenile drug crimes, establishing teen centers in area towns, and "more culturally specific and vocationally oriented mentoring programs."

The proportion of minorities arrested for juvenile crimes is more than twice that of their percentage in the county's population, the Douglas County report found.

"Right now we're going over all the reports from each district and trying to streamline the data," said Denise Musser, public information officer for the JJA.

The effort in Kansas -- having people in each judicial district come up with strategies for combating juvenile crime in their areas -- is the first of its kind in the United States.

"It is a tremendous step forward," she said. "I think this grass-roots effort is in the tradition that Kansas has always had, and that's one of prairie populism -- that solutions for local problems developed locally are the best solutions."

Musser said that once the reports are analyzed, the JJA will take its funding recommendations to the Legislature, which could allocate funds for various programs.

Diehl, the juvenile prosecutor here, said that from a personal perspective, a variety of strategies should be employed.

"I don't think you can you can put all of your funding in one area," she said. "For example, I don't think spending all of your resources on sanctions, for example, is going to work."

In addition, Diehl added, local officials are working to make sure funding is not used to duplicate existing programs and agencies.

-- Michael Dekker's phone message number is 832-7187. His e-mail address is mdekker@ljworld.com.

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