Archive for Monday, November 25, 2002

Budget endangers program fighting juvenile crime

November 25, 2002

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— Barton County officials say the state's budget problems could force them to cut programs designed to keep juvenile offenders out of more trouble.

The Juvenile Services Office of the 20th Judicial District will present a revised budget today to the Barton County Commission that reflects a 6.5 percent budget cut from the state, director Carla Drescher said. That comes after a 4 percent cut at the start of the year.

The reductions could lead to cuts in the Great Bend Teen Court and Project Stay programs. Teen Court lets first-time offenders between the ages of 10 and 18 avoid court by facing a jury of their peers. The Teen Court typically sentences youths to community service.

Project Stay provides intense supervision for students who have been truant from school because truancy is the best predictor of future criminal activity, Drescher said.

Drescher said the commissioners would "have to make some big decisions" today to cut $45,000 from her programs.

Teen Court and Project Stay are the only juvenile services programs not mandated by the Juvenile Justice Authority and are most vulnerable, she said.

The Project Stay staff was reduced from four case managers to three this year during the first round of budget cuts. Drescher also reduced the budget for cleaning the juvenile services office, eliminated the training budget and eliminated most of the equipment budget.

County Atty. Rick Scheuffler said the juvenile services advisory board was recommending eliminating one of the three remaining Project Stay case workers and assigning Teen Court Coordinator Don Learned to assume those duties.

Scheuffler, however, called that option "ill advised" and has stopped referring cases to Teen Court in protest.

"There's a huge difference between the programs," Scheuffler said.

Teen Court is also available in Rice and Russell counties, and Ellsworth County has used the service a few times. Stafford County does not use the program. All five of those counties use Project Stay.

Scheuffler and Drescher agree the programs have helped keep young people out of the court system.

"I think the public should be very concerned," Drescher said. "What we're seeing is probably just the first step in what is yet to come."

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