Garfield County gives juvenile diversion program a boost |

Garfield County gives juvenile diversion program a boost

John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Garfield County commissioners stepped up to help out the juvenile diversion program Monday, after the state eliminated the program from next year’s budget.

County commissioners agreed Monday to allocate $50,000 in additional funds to the 9th Judicial District’s budget, specifically to pay for a juvenile diversion program.

The additional funds will be on top of the $55,000 Garfield County has already allocated for the program for its 2010 budget, bringing the year’s total Garfield County contribution to $105,000, specifically for diversion.

It’s a program that Commissioner Tresi Houpt said is too important to go without.

“I think we can’t afford to let this program fail,” Houpt said. “It’s very important that we make funding it a priority.”

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Martin Beeson and Deputy District Attorney Tony Hershey appeared in front of the board to ask for the additional funds after the state’s Division of Criminal Justice announced in July that it would cut juvenile diversion funds from its budget, eliminating the program.

The cut resulted in close to a 10 percent, or $100,000, decrease in funding for the program over the next year for YouthZone, which is contracted by the DA’s Office for the program.

However, the director of the state’s Criminal Justice Division, Jeanne Smith, encouraged diversion programs to seek local contributions to help out until the state can contribute in the future.

Hershey said that it’s an important program, and the funds were necessary in keeping it going.

“It’s fortunate that they were able to step in to keep this program going,” Hershey said. “You would hate to abandon it if the state were able to bring it back in a couple of years.”

Hershey explained to county commissioners the program’s benefits saying that while the program doesn’t work in every case, it has had a very good success rate.

“It’s a very successful program,” Hershey said. “For the children in the juvenile justice program it works very well.”

YouthZone Director Debbie Wilde has said that YouthZone has seen upwards of 75 percent success rate for kids who are given diversion for their first offense.

“I think they agreed with the DA that this is a very important part of the program and the justice system,” Wilde said.

Wilde, who also appeared in front of the county commissioners, also asked them to write a letter to the state, voicing their opinion on how important the program is. However, Wilde said that their opinion is evident in the approval of the additional funds. Houpt agreed.

“I think it’s important to join in the discussion of having the state make sure that they put these funds back in place when it’s able to,” Houpt said. “The state spends so much money each year on adult and juvenile detention when it makes so much more sense to work with youth to make them successful in the future.”

The additional funds approved on Monday won’t be available until Jan. 1, 2010, Wilde said.

According to Wilde, YouthZone’s budget for this year is about $1.1 million, which is down about 20 percent from just two years ago. YouthZone’s budget runs July through June each year. From July 2008 through June 2009, YouthZone had 111 youths that went through the juvenile diversion program, Wilde said. Of those, 63 were from Garfield County, while 48 were from Pitkin County.

“But even with the $50,000 contribution, there is still a $50,000 gap to fill,” Wilde said of the loss in state revenue.

Wilde also spoke to Pitkin County representatives Monday afternoon to request additional funds. Last year, Pitkin County dropped $42,000 for juvenile diversion in the 9th Judicial District. Wilde said that she will request additional funds from Pitkin County as part of a three-year partnership grant funded through the Pitkin County Healthy Community Fund.

YouthZone also received an additional $55,000 from Garfield County through the human services budget for other various programs, not specifically diversion, in addition to the other funds for last year’s budget. However, Wilde expected those funds to decline this year as well.

YouthZone will also contribute reserve funds to keep the program going and will also try to raise additional funds through various fund raisers. The local nonprofit is currently in the middle of its annual Kiss-n-Squeal fundraiser.

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