Funding cuts might leave juveniles on the streets
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” A recommendation to cut or even eliminate funding from an alternative juvenile correction program means young offenders won’t have any place to go “but out on the street.
“They won’t go to detention, and they’ll have no supervision,” said Terry Shanahan, juvenile justice coordinator for the 9th Judicial District. “They’ll be out on the street awaiting sentencing.”
“We’re talking some significant impact to services to our local youth,” said Deb Wilde, executive director of YouthZone, the regional nonprofit youth advocacy organization headquartered in Glenwood Springs. “And we’re also talking about public safety.”
At issue is funding for Colorado Senate Bill 94. The bill, signed into law by former Gov. Roy Romer in 1991, was a result of Colorado’s increased demand for delinquent residential services ” in other words, juvenile jail.
Wilde said the program costs $9 million per year. The Colorado Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee has made a request to reduce funding to the program by $6 million, leaving just $3 million a year or, possibly, no funding at all.
The funding cuts come just as the Joint Budget Committee faces $194 million in cuts in the 2004-05 state budget out of the general fund budget of $5.6 billion.
Why an alternative to jail?
Wilde said at the time SB 94 was implemented, the Colorado Department of Corrections estimated each new bed built for traditional juvenile jail was costing the state $100,000, with all costs included.
So, instead of simply building more corrections facilities to house offenders, SB 94 allowed for alternatives, such as supervised at-home detention and ankle-bracelet monitoring. All program participants are supervised by a case manager on a daily basis as well.
Wilde said the program was not designed for severe repeat violent offenders, but rather for juveniles who qualified after being screened.
Shanahan does that initial screening.
“Juveniles who are a significant risk to public safety aren’t considered for the program,” he said. “We assess what this young person’s risk to the public is. This is for lower level offenders, such as a juvenile involved in a fist fight who’s facing assault charges. It’s where early intervention can make a difference.”
“In some cases, sending offenders to jail just makes them learn to be better criminals,” said Wilde. “Peer pressure is significant at the juvenile level.”
Shanahan said, at any one time in Colorado, 2,800 juveniles are being monitored under SB 94’s alternative program. Locally, that translates to 11 juveniles throughout the 9th Judicial District.
Out on the street
If the SB 94 program’s budget is cut or eliminated, it doesn’t mean offenders currently served by the program will automatically be sent to detention centers.
That’s because, according to Wilde, last year the state imposed “hard caps” on correction facility beds. Only 26 beds are available for juvenile offenders in youth detention centers on the Western Slope, which includes the 9th and several other judicial districts.
“There’s no more throwing cots on the floor and filling facilities beyond capacities,” she said.
That means that if the SB 94 program is reduced or cut completely, more offenders will end up unsupervised and out on the street.
“What will happen is an offender may get arrested, get a court date and be released,” said Wilde. “We won’t be able to supervise these young people at all, and this creates a public safety issue.”
Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518
Deb Wilde of YouthZone said people concerned about the Joint Budget Committee’s recommendation to reduce or eliminate funding for alternative juvenile corrections can contact the following government officials:
– Gov. Bill Owens: 303-866-2471, firstname.lastname@example.org
– Rep. Gregg Rippy: 303-866-2945, email@example.com
Joint Budget Committee members:
– Rep. John Witwer: 303-866-2582, firstname.lastname@example.org
– Sen. Ron Teck: 303-303-866-2585, email@example.com
– Sen. Peggy Reeves: 303-866-2578, firstname.lastname@example.org
– Rep. Brad Young: 303-866-2581, email@example.com
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