02/27/08 — Juvenile programs face cuts in funding

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Juvenile programs face cuts in funding

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 27, 2008 1:56 PM

State legislators' removal of more than $345,000 in anticipated funding will pose a big problem for juvenile delinquency prevention programs in the coming year, said the chairman of the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.

The announcement came during the General Assembly's 2007 session that the money would not be included in the upcoming budget, said Sudie Davis, who is also director of Communities in Schools. That's going to present some problems down the road, she added, especially when it comes to juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.

Mrs. Davis said she is concerned about the future of children and families currently served by the programs that support the juvenile court system.

Five local programs -- Teen Court, Connect 4, Structured Day, restitution and community service, and psychological services -- have been sent scrambling for other revenues, or face folding if funding is not secured, Mrs. Davis said.

"The JCPC is going to continue with the process and accept applications for grants, not knowing whether the money will be available or not," she said.

The only program with access to additional funding at this point is Teen Court, Mrs. Davis said.

"We might be able to keep it going, but there's no assurance for any of the other programs, that they'll be able to continue to operate," she said.

The possibility that any of these vital services "could go away" is "mind-boggling," she said.

"These are programs that serve children coming through the juvenile courts plus some other children in the community, too," she said.

"The really interesting part of it is, to me, that we're serving 633 kids with that $345,000. To put three kids in a youth development center, which is the last recourse for juveniles that the state operates under, for one student for one year is $95,000 per child."

It's a big concern, because the existing services provide an intervention for youths who have gotten in trouble.

"Each of these programs are a tool that the court counselors use to assist them in getting back on track," she said. "Most of them have pretty good outcomes."

Without such resources, "far too many of them may wind up in our prison system," an even more costly prospect, she said.

If even four youths wind up in a juvenile development center, for example, she said, it would cost $380,000.

"Is it better to serve them at home or serve them in a youth center?" she asked. "It's certainly more cost effective to serve them at home."

Most are probably unaware of what could happen to the resources that have been in the community for several years. But in light of the recent announcement by the General Assembly, it is apparent that no services should be taken for granted, Mrs. Davis said.

Additionally, she noted, even if the services fall by the wayside, the need for them remains. And so will the tab, which she suggests will likely have to be picked up by the county and its taxpayers.

"It could definitely affect the county's budget" in absorbing some of the expenses, especially if incarceration is involved, Mrs. Davis said.

Should the programs be forced to close up shop, she said, court counselors' hands will be tied as resources routinely used are no longer there. They may have to send more to juvenile detention, the cost of which is $188 a day, shared equally by the county and the state.

It will also play out badly in terms of potential juvenile delinquency problems, she said.

"Kids who are currently going to Structured Day when they're not in school may be out on the streets getting into trouble," she said. "Teen Court may have to reduce the number of kids served; there will be no restitution or community service programs for the juvenile court counselors to use to try to get their kids back on track; the family support program that Connect 4 operates will not be there to serve families; and psychological services providing psychological assessments for kids mandated by courts, they'll go away."

Public awareness of the plight could make a difference, she said.

"We really encourage the community to let the legislators know that these programs are very beneficial for kids who wind up in the court system," she said. "We need for the community to let the legislators know. JCPC has written, the county commission has sent a letter."

Interested residents, especially those who have already benefitted from the menu of services, are urged to write letters and express their support for the funding to continue, she said.

"I think it would be terrible if we don't speak up now, because if we don't speak up now, it may be too late later," she said. "The legislators do not go back into session until early May and if they leave this hanging until July or August, it might mean that some of the programs they have funded through this pot of money may have to close their doors."

Contact information for legislators can be found on the General Assembly Web site, which lists those who serve Wayne County as Senators John Kerr and Fred Smith, and Representatives Louis Pate, Larry Bell and Van Braxton. Mrs. Davis can also be reached at 735-1432.