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Kids In Trouble Can Work It Off Juvenile Justice System Changes Add Labor Option For Judges’ Sentencing

Wayward youths be warned: If you scrawl graffiti on a wall, it won’t be long before you’re cleaning it off.

Hard work or hard time - that’s the choice kids caught damaging property or committing other minor crimes will soon face.

A new program called WILD Work in Lieu of Detention - is being developed by the Kootenai County Juvenile Probation Department. It’s expected to get under way within the next two weeks.

“The judges wanted a (sentencing) option that involved accountability,” said Mike Stallcup, chief probation officer. “This lets them do something for the community.”

Officials hope the new program will not only make kids more accountable but also reduce crowding at the detention center and clean up the community.

A judge will decide which youths are eligible for the WILD program usually those sentenced to no more than five days in detention for their crimes. The kids will then decide whether they want to sit in the clink or head outside and work, said Michael Wall, work restitution officer.

Those who choose a penalty under the WILD program will clean parks, cover graffiti and scour highways for eight hours each day.

“There’s going to be an attempt to match crimes to the community service work,” Stallcup said, explaining that he hopes to see graffiti artists clean up their work and vandals repair their damage.

“They’re getting an option to make it right,” Wall said.

Starting Oct. 1, the juvenile justice system underwent a massive transformation - both across the state and in Kootenai County.

Last year, the legislature swiped juvenile justice out of the hands of the Department of Health and Welfare and created the new Department of Juvenile Corrections.

The change means more work and more responsibilities now rest on the counties’ shoulders.

For the Kootenai County Juvenile Probation Department it has meant 74 more young offenders they’re responsible for.

In response, the department is doubling its staff. Officials are also trying to develop new, more effective programs to handle young offenders.

WILD is one of them. Five youths are already signed up for the program. They will install benches at Hayden Elementary School and clean a Department of Lands facility, Wall said.

Al Friesen, director of juvenile services, hopes the program will reduce crowding at the detention center.

Even with a new eight-bed addition, the youth center is close to reaching its maximum capacity. At times, kids have been forced to sleep on the floors and in the halls because so many were crammed in.

Intense Supervised Probation is another new program, designed to keep the more serious offenders under close scrutiny.

The program is the last step before hard-core juvenile offenders are turned over to the state, said Greg Orlando, head of the unit. Juveniles who have returned from spending time in the state juvenile correction center will also be placed in the program.

Orlando said probation officers will roam the youth hangouts to watch the juveniles. They will also covertly keep an eye on the kids in their program to make sure they are behaving.

The state has given Kootenai County $476,000 in the form of block grants and cigarette tax money to pay for the new programs.

, DataTimes

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