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Increasingly complex problems reported among Idaho’s juvenile offenders

Idaho's Department of Juvenile Corrections is seeing increasingly complex problems among the juvenile offenders it has in custody, though overall numbers are down. "Our system is changing," Director Sharon Harrigfeld told legislative budget writers this morning. "We have seen a 74 percent increase in mental health diagnoses among our commitments; 12.5 percent of the juveniles committed to us are diagnosed with a developmental disability." Those youngsters have longer stays in the system.

The department requested a 9.5 percent boost in state general funding for next year's budget, including 14 new direct care staffers at its St. Anthony facility; the governor didn't recommend funding that. His proposed budget for juvenile corrections for next year calls for a 1.7 percent increase in state general funds, and 1.4 percent in total funds. Juvenile crime has been dropping for the past five years, Harrigfeld said, but recently has started to rise again. Among juveniles in state custody, 33 percent are there on misdemeanor charges, 67 percent on felony charges.

Harrigfeld said federal grant funds that the department passes through to local governments are falling sharply. "We are expecting a 58 percent decrease in federal funding," she said. "Reduced grant funding at the local level will force our counties to come up with different options to hold juveniles accountable. ... One of those options will be commitment to IDJC."

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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