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Alternatives for area youths


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Alice Campbell Havre Daily News [email protected]

Since the youth detention center in Blaine County closed, young offenders have been transported to a Great Falls facility, costing time and money. A local group is looking at alternatives to detention with help from the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative through the Annie E. Casey Foundation. "The whole idea is to get an early grip on them," said Judge David Rice, who is helping with the process, which began before the Blaine County facility's closure. If the problems are corrected early on, it can save children from going through the system time and time again as both youths and adults. Some children get in the system as early as the age of 11, but most are pushing the envelope in their teen years, he said. Hi l l , Cascade, Missoula and Yellowstone counties received grants through JDAI to perform research to discover why Native Americans are more likely to get arrested than white youths. Nothing specific caused the numbers, said Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Kevin Buerkle. "It's just that the numbers are there," he said. In Hill, Liberty and Chouteau counties, the area that Buerkle's office serves, roughly 220 unduplicated offenses occur each year, he said. The group is looking at creating alternatives in Hill County cases from Hill County constitute roughly 90 percent of Buerkle's workload before possibly branching out to other areas affected by the closing of the Blaine County center. Ideally, the group working to establish alternatives in Hill County would like to see a group home for youths, group member Amanda Christofferson said. They would like to have a reporting center open at some point next year, she added. Once picked up for an offense, the youth would report to the center after school instead of remaining in detention or being fully released to a relative's home before disposition hearings, Buerkle said. The benefits are many, he said, and include keeping the children in the community, in school and in a family structure. Any time a youth is kept in a home environment, the better chances of success there are, he added. The point of the locally driven process is not to eliminate youth detention entirely, but to limit it to youths who pose a community safety or flight risk, Buerkle said. The hope is to "get to the point that those were the only time we'd have youth detained," he said. The detention alternative initiative has seen marked results in other areas. For example, the organization's Web site reports that Cook County, Ill., saw a 37 percent decrease in in the average detention population and a more than 50 percent drop in youth arrests. Currently, youths to be detained are held by local law authorities until a Cascade County officer can come and collect them. Sometimes, local officers meet Cascade officers between Havre and Great Falls. Transport runs at 55 cents a mile, plus overtime or regular pay of officers, Buerkle said. Add to that a $112.50 daily rate at the detention center. Since the Blaine County center closed in July, 28 youths in Buerkle's area of jurisdiction have been detained in Cascade County some of the youth were already detained there and some have been jailed multiple times, Buerkle said. Time also is a factor, with law enforcement officers responsible for the youths until they can be formally detained, Christofferson said. The only alternative to detention in Cascade County is electronic monitoring, a relatively inexpensive way of keeping tabs on youths at $7 a day. A worksheet has been developed to help officers determine if a youth should be detained or not, as well, Buerkle said. But with a reporting center, "I think we'd see much better results," he said. A center would provide structure to the youths, for whom the No. 1 cause of them getting in trouble is unsupervised time and lack of supervision in the home, he said. Drugs and alcohol issues come in second, he added. The after-school and early evening hours are when most youths find trouble, he said, but by being at the center, they would be supervised and using their time constructively. The center also would teach the youths about accountability and provide skills that could keep them out of trouble in the future, he said. Youths could receive help with homework, work toward earning a GED, perform group community service and learn about issues that perhaps got them in trouble in the first place, Christofferson said, like violence, drugs and alcohol. Funding and facilities have not been secured as of yet, she said, adding that community support and grant funding are being considered. Christofferson said that the group also is looking into creating a network of foster homes where youths could go if they have nowhere else to go while waiting deposition hearings to avoid being jailed. "It's all about helping the youth, as well as making sure about community safety," she said. For more information about JDAI, vi s i t http://www.aecf .org, or contact Christofferson at 265-6206.


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