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Juvenile Court hopes to renew state grant

Spokane County commissioners want to renew a state grant that has helped their juvenile justice staff deal with nonviolent delinquents without locking up so many of them.

Commissioners authorized Juvenile Court administrators to seek a third year of funding under a three-year state program that has provided $91,314 in each of the past two years. They don’t know yet whether that much will be available, however.

Much of the money – $44,494 a year – has been used to pay half the salaries of a juvenile corrections officer and an office assistant to help implement evening and weekend programs to give troubled youths training instead of detention. That way, they learn from counselors and other professionals instead of the hard-core offenders they’d likely meet in detention, according to Detention Services Supervisor Rand Trevey.

The county must pay for the equivalent of 2 1/2 positions beyond what the grant has provided, but has been able to reduce pressure on its overtaxed 39-cell detention center and the five beds the county rents at the Martin Hall Regional Detention Center at Medical Lake. Even with electronic monitoring and alternative programs, occupancy at the county’s detention center averaged 47 in 2004 and 2005 because of double-bunking.

County juvenile justice officials hope eventually to be able to eliminate double-bunking by dealing with more youths in other ways.

The alternative programs target offenders who are not considered a threat to the public, including those who violate conditions of their probations as well as some whose only offense is refusal to go to school. Two new programs, developed in part with state Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative money, send probation violators and truants to classes at the downtown YMCA.

Probation violators may be sentenced to up to 30 evenings of instruction from 3:30 to 7:45 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. The courses cover drug and alcohol issues, job skills and character development among other things.

Truants get similar instruction on Saturday mornings, starting at 9 a.m., and spend their Saturday afternoons, until 3 p.m., doing community service work. Parents also are asked to participate in the Saturday morning classes.

Offenders who fail to complete the structured programs face the possibility of electronic monitoring or the traditional lockup if nothing else will get their attention, Trevey said in an interview.

County juvenile justice officials say the new programs helped save the equivalent of 2,768 days of secure detention in 2005 and 2,697 in 2006.

In 2005, officials said, 2,407 youths were sentenced to electronic monitoring; 20 to community service; and 144 to evening reporting. There was a shift toward community service and the evening reporting program in 2006, when 1,854 were sentenced to electronic monitoring; 138 to community service; and 705 to evening reporting.

Among truants and other noncriminal offenders, detention rose from 565 days in 2004 to 676 in 2005, but the Saturday reporting program saved 197 days of detention.

In 2006, detention days fell to 393. The Saturday program saved 128 days, and electronic monitoring saved 316 more.