Tim MacDonald Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
Probably the most difficult problem in dealing with youth offenders is making them aware that they are responsible for their actions. That the crimes they commit hurt themselves and others. The Twelfth Judicial District Youth Court, which encompasses Chouteau, Hill and Liberty counties and the Department of Corrections have adopted a series of proven methods that develop community-based alternatives for both youth and adult offenders. The new services include a specialized 12-step program called Moral Reconation Therapy. It uses methods similar to those of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to teach youth how to focus on honesty, trust and goal setting through a specialized group process, according to Juvenile Probation Officer Kevin R. Buerkle. The program, abbreviated MRT, was developed in adult penal institutions in 1986. It uses a group therapy approach and workbooks to address the clients problems. A workbook assignment is given to each offender every week and it is up to the group to decide whether the client has satisfactorily completed the assignment, if they have they may move on to the next step in the workbook. “The clients are either recommended for the program by the court, or by our office as part of the probation process,” Buerkle said. A study in the “Cognitive Behavioral Treatment Review” found that the repeat offender rate was cut nearly in half by using the MRT therapy method. The program in Havre is run by Mountain Peaks Inc. out of Great Falls, with therapist Chrissy Bauman heading up the program locally. Adult probation officer Jerry Smith heads up the adult program. “MRT is recognized nationally as the best practical program for dealing with offenders, we are just beginning to develop our own statistics locally,” Buerkle said.
It is early to to a study on the local effects of using the program, it has only been in use since about July and so far has had seven participants. Completion of the program takes between 12 and 24 weeks. Other programs intended to deal with youth offenders involve making offenders aware of the effects that their crimes have on the victims. The first is a Victim Impact Panel, it allows members of the community and victims of crimes to address young offenders in a group setting by explaining the consequences of their crimes. “For instance, we have a definite problem with shoplifting, this gives business owners a chance to explain the real cost to them and the community that this kind of theft causes,” Buerkle said. Victim Offender Conferencing provides for a more personal one-on-one interaction between a young offender and the victim of their crime. This is effective for crimes such as vandalism, for instance. The victim plays a role in determining the consequences of the crime. “What we want to see is the offender making amends. The victim helps decide restitution, or if community service is appropriate,” Buerkle said. “The community has responded positively, with businesses participating in victim impact panels as an example,” Buerkle wrote in a recent statement. “Community participation in our system provides an additional level of accountability and ultimately strengthens our community as a whole.”