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Idaho last year arrested 5,000 fewer juveniles than 10 years ago; preventive programs credited

Interestingly, Idaho’s juvenile corrections system reports that the number of youngsters being arrested has dropped significantly. “We arrested 5,000 fewer juveniles last year than we did 10 years ago,” said Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections Director Sharon Harrigfeld. Asked why, she said, “It’s because we have a better system – we’re doing more prevention. Our county partners have really developed a strong system that keeps kids in the community and reduces their recidivism. We’re really happy with the success of the programs.”

Still, the department’s various programs, from substance-abuse treatment to incarceration, touch thousands of individuals. “On any given day, we have 5,000 kids on probation, and 200 in juvenile detention,” Harrigfeld told lawmakers. “Today we have 317 in custody.”

The department requested a 5 percent budget boost next year in state funds, 4.3 percent in total funds; Gov. Butch Otter recommended a 2 percent hike in state funds and 2 percent overall. Otter recommended adding seven direct-care staffers at the St. Anthony juvenile corrections center; the department had requested 14. It had also requested $334,800 and three more positions to boost staff and training at all three of the state’s juvenile facilities, but Otter didn’t recommend funding those requests. Some of those were to ensure compliance with the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act, but Harrigfeld said after her budget presentation to JFAC this morning that though Idaho’s staffing at its juvenile jails falls well below the national average, the state is “in pretty good shape as far as compliance” with the federal law.

“They’re saying child-staff ratio should be 1-8 during waking hours and 1-16 in the evening,” Harrigfeld said under questioning from JFAC members. “For the most part, our child-staff ratio is 1-12.” Harrigfeld said all states will be required to hit the 1-8 ratio by 2017, but numerous states are challenging that ratio, arguing that appropriately trained staff is more important than the numbers. “Over the past 10 years, we have improved the professionalism of our direct care staff … who are now POST certified,” Harrigfeld told JFAC.

She did note that there’s currently a case in which a staffer is charged with lewd conduct with a minor in one of the state facilities. “This criminal case ... is proceeding through the Canyon County prosecutor’s office, and I’ll keep you informed as it progresses,” she told lawmakers. Harrigfeld said, “I have full faith in our staff, and when we have something like this tragedy, we deal with it.”

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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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