By C.J. Barbre

It's not like it was in the old days. Children were taught respect and a healthy work ethic.

&#8220I think a lot of our problems today are child labor laws. I think we shot ourselves in the foot. We all worked as kids,” said District 4 Supervisor Steve Worthley in discussing costs of cleaning up graffiti at the Nov. 8 Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting.

District 5 Supervisor Jim Maples said as a young staffer at Porterville College he oversaw youth work crews cleaning up trash around the Terra Bella area. &#8220We were able to make contacts for them in the community,” he said.

Every supervisor agreed it was a promising concept, putting juvenile offenders to work to address their offenses, instead of just locking them up.

Juvenile crime statistics

On Oct. 3, Superior Court Judge Valeriano Saucedo was assigned to the Juvenile Justice System. He told the supervisors he had been keeping mental score and juvenile problems in Tulare County were in keeping with percentages around the state. Those figures are intimidating. Over 25 years, from 1973-1997 records indicate juveniles were involved in 25% of serious, violent victimizations annually. In 1997 juveniles ages 12-18 were involved in 27% of all serious victimizations including 14% of sexual assaults, 30% of robberies and 27% of aggravated assaults.

The Department of Justice in California estimated in 2000 that there were as many as a half million gang members in the state. That's one in eight kids ages 11-18 in a population of 4 million adolescents involved in gangs. Teens are more than five times as likely to be a crime victim that adults to age 35.

&#8220We have discovered in juvenile work intervention is very important,” Saucedo said.

He said with a single contact with law enforcement 70% of the kids learn their lesson and don't come back into the system; 22% take up to three contacts with law enforcement; and 8% continue, to become repeat offenders.

&#8220Some of these children do not have the skills and work values that we grew up with. They will be given that opportunity. Even labor skills allow them to learn self esteem, the value of hard work and discipline,” Saucedo said.

Juvenile Court Work Program Proposal

The proposal stated the Juvenile Court Work Program is a means by which the Juvenile Court directs a minor to perform beneficial work in lieu of confinement and has its authority in Sections 730 and 731 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code.

Minors who are court-sentenced wards of the Juvenile Court, referred to as &#8220juvenile probationers,” may be placed under the supervision of a Deputy Probation Officer and may be required, as a condition of probation, to perform community service or graffiti cleanup.

&#8220The work to be performed by the juvenile probationers will be unskilled labor which may include, but may not be limited to, street and water basin cleaning; litter pickup; clearing brush, drainage ditches and fire breaks; removal of graffiti, weeds and damaged or excess vegetation,”the report said.

Funding

The estimated cost of the program for the first year, including one time start up costs of $79,181 is $327,000. Ongoing operating costs is estimated at $247,796 per year.

&#8220I think we agree this is a great concept. The issue is how do we pay for it? Do we have support of the cities and staffs and police chiefs so we can recoup costs to the extent we can have people paying for services provided. Is there something more tangible than a letter of support?” Worthley wanted to know.

A letter of support from the Tulare County Chiefs Association stated, &#8220As we strive too reduce crime and keep our communities safe and free of graffiti, we feel this approach will go far in changing the delinquent attitudes and behaviors of these offenders. The membership of the Tulare County Chiefs' Association has discussed this matter and approves this concept.”

&#8220We did not discuss any monetaries,” said Chief Probation Officer Janet Honadle. She said the chiefs would have to talk to their city managers. &#8220That doesn't mean we won't go looking for money,” she said in reference to grant funding.

Maples questioned if law enforcement was needed to supervise, given his own experience in this area.

Juvenile Probation Division Manager David Parbst said the probation officers supervising work crews would have the authority to arrest any juvenile who fails the program for violation of probation and recommended for residential custody time for sentence completion or other action deemed appropriate by the Juvenile Court.

&#8220They must show up on time and work,” he said. &#8220If the minor chooses not to work he will be taken into custody and booked.”

Crews of eight wards would be supervised by a probation/correctional officer. The minors would be graded each day in four areas including attitude/behavior toward staff and crew members; work performance and pace; compliance with work program rules; and compliance with staff directions/orders.

Maples suggested it be started as a pilot program, with budget increases as the program succeeded.

The JCWP work crew youth would be provided with appropriate safety vests, helmets and gloves.

The Probation Department anticipates a minimum of 110 program days per year (30 weekends and 10 full five-day weeks). JCWP could impact up to a maximum of 880 minors (if minor is assigned to eight hours of service).

&#8220I believe it's about $10 million of our budget we bring in through grants. We're very good at that,” Parbst said. &#8220These are the kind of figures you do when applying for grants. We wanted to give you the worst case scenario.”

The proposal stated, &#8220The Probation Department will seek funding from all available resources via grants, program fees, contracts with participating cities and agencies as well as donations from civic organizations to offset costs.”

A fee of $50 per hour will be charged to public agencies for work provided by the juvenile crews. Fifty dollars an hour for a crew of eight sounds really good and with the estimated time of 5,000 hours that would bring back $250,000 annually toward the cost of the program (actually more than the cost of the program at current estimates).

Spokesman for the board, Eric Coyne said the proposal had two goals, the first being to get conceptual approval and the second to get authority to go out and contact communities and come back with &#8220real world numbers.”

Worthley moved they approve the concept and have the probation department come back with specifics. The vote was unanimous.

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