April 1, 1996 in Nation/World

Kids Serving Time In School ‘Day Confinement’ Offers Alternative To Detention

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Kathi Tribby wrote a simple instruction on her chalkboard last week: “Spring Break, 4-1 - 4-5. STAY HOME!”

In any other classroom, the message would be a reminder for students to enjoy their vacation.

But Tribby’s students take the message literally: Stay home or be locked up.

The 20 youths take classes in the basement of Spokane County’s juvenile detention center, where they are assigned to a “day confinement” program that began last fall.

All are either serving sentences or waiting to go to trial on a variety of charges, including vehicle prowling, dealing drugs, assault and burglary.

Thick, black bracelets strapped to the students’ ankles monitor their comings and goings when they’re not in school during the day.

At night, they’re sent home, but two workers known as “trackers” randomly visit them to ensure compliance.

The program allows youths who have dropped out of school to get back on track in an alternative-style classroom like Tribby’s, where they receive one-on-one instruction and learn how to get jobs.

They typically stay at the center about 15 days. Afterward, Tribby helps them get back to the public school they would normally attend.

“We don’t just let them go and say ‘Bye,”’ said program coordinator Gordon Smith, Jr. “We do follow-ups and allow them to stay here longer if they need to, but our main objective is to get them back into the community, in their own school.”

One young offender, Theo Acostas, said Tribby’s class is the first he’s been in “where the teachers help me succeed.”

Acostas, 18, who dropped out of school in the eighth grade, has been assigned to the program for the past month while he waits to be sentenced for assault and forgery. During that time, he earned his GED and is applying to college.

“I’m the first in my family to do that,” the former gang member said proudly. “I’m on my way to a better life.”

Acostas said being confined to his house at night and on the weekends “gets old,” but he, like most of his fellow students, wouldn’t dare jeopardize the deal.

“It’s way better than detention,” he said.

The $288,000-a-year program is the first of its kind in the state, and came after voters rejected three bond issues seeking to expand the juvenile detention center in the last three years.

Voters did approve a sales tax increase last fall that will raise $12 million over the next three years for jails and jail-related programs.

Spokane’s 60-bed Mallon Avenue detention center has been full for nearly four years, forcing judges to release dangerous offenders early and place others on home-monitoring equipment until a cell opens up.

“Taxpayers have told us to reinvent juvenile corrections and that’s what we’re doing,” said Tom Davis, the county’s juvenile services director who came up with the day confinement idea.

While helping to ease the waiting list for detention, the program also costs less than jailing kids - $38 a day, compared to about $100 a day upstairs in the detention center.

So far, nearly 200 students have been through the program. Of those, 25 misbehaved and had to be locked up in detention. Half were allowed to return to the day confinement program.

“Getting sent back to detention is sort of a wake-up call for most of these kids,” Smith said. “Once they came back, they did fine.”

In addition, two students ran away from home and were charged with second-degree escape, which automatically puts them in detention for 28 days and removes them from the program.

Other than that, none of the 200 students has reoffended, Smith said.

“That’s what gives us the most encouragement,” he said. “What we’ve seen is punishment as a sole route does not work. … Here, we’re attempting to create some payoffs for all of us.”

In the afternoons, students work at one of more than 30 community service sites, which include cleaning cages at the animal shelter and stocking food at the Salvation Army’s food bank. The youths are placed at work sites in their own neighborhoods, where Smith said he hopes “some bridges will be built.”

The program’s success, however, begins and ends with teachers like Tribby, who works for the state’s Educational Service District 101.

A talkative woman with a half-dozen earrings in one ear, Tribby has a friendly, laid-back style with the students, whom she rarely has to discipline.

Last week, she stood at the front of the class in jeans, holding a video in each hand.

“Which flick do you want to see tomorrow?” she asked, raising and lowering her arms like a scale. “They’re both classics and they’re both in color.”

The students, already working on the pop quiz on Bosnia she just sprang on them, shrugged. One boy squinted at the “Call of the Wild” video in Tribby’s left hand.

“Hey is that Ricky Schroder?” he asked.

Tribby, 26, looked at the movie cover. Her eyes flew open.

“It is!” she said. “Oh, but look. He wants to be called Rick now.”

The students laughed and returned to their quizzes.

Watching from his office around the corner, Smith smiled.

“This is why some of the kids we get don’t want to leave here,” he said. “They finally feel connected to something, to a school, and they’re doing well.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FEW MISBEHAVE Of the nearly 200 students who have been through the day confinement program, 25 misbehaved and had to be locked up in detention. Half were allowed to return to the program after a few days in a cell.

This sidebar appeared with the story: FEW MISBEHAVE Of the nearly 200 students who have been through the day confinement program, 25 misbehaved and had to be locked up in detention. Half were allowed to return to the program after a few days in a cell.


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