Future uncertain

Juvenile intervention team faces hefty budget cuts, program in jeopardy

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A community corrections program for Moffat County youth that has received state funding for more than a decade may face deep cuts this year as legislators attempt to balance Colorado's 2004-05 budget.

Nearly 90 juveniles in the 14th Judicial District, which includes Moffat, Routt and Grand counties, benefited from the program last year.

The Moffat County Crisis Intervention & Community Evaluation Team monitors juvenile offenders and prepares them for their appointed court dates. Almost half the offenders, or 40 youth, in the three-county range were from Moffat County.

Nearly $6 million of the state's $9 million allocation for the Senate Bill 94 program is poised for the chopping block.

If the cuts pass the legislature's joint budget committee in a couple of weeks, it may mean the death of the Moffat County program. State funding for the county's youth program would decrease from $26,000 to $9,000. That scenario would make it largely impossible to keep the local program afloat, said Kelly Goodwin, director of the Moffat County program.

"I want to see kids succeed but it's so discouraging that some people in the state say this isn't important," Goodwin said. "If this goes through, we'll be crippled to the point where we can't do anything."

At stake are also the jobs of Moffat County's evaluation team; three part-time workers and Goodwin's full-time role.

The operation ran on a $58,000 total budget last year, Goodwin said, which was funded 50 percent by Moffat County funds and United Way dollars.

Senate Bill 94 was initiated in 1991 to save some of the costs of placing youth in detention facilities around the state. According to Colorado's Division of Youth Corrections, the Senate Bill 94 program has saved the state about $30 million.

Instead of sending youth offenders to detention facilities before a sentencing, community evaluations staff intervene and survey youth through ankle monitors and daily, one-on-one interaction. The program is designed to help violent youth, substance abusers, sex offenders, those with gang affiliations probation violators, among others.

Eliminating the contact with youth offenders in this bracket could have detrimental effects on the community, Goodwin said.

This section of youth offenders aren't committing major crimes like murder, but they're often well on the way toward a life of crime. Providing guidance is important for these youth because "there's still some hope," she said.

"Without the (state) funding it creates an all or nothing option," Goodwin said. "Kids either go to lock up or are out on the loose. When you're going to turn violent offenders back on the street, you're just asking for it."

There are currently only four beds in the youth detention centers around the state for youth from the 14th Judicial District, Goodwin said.

That means one offender can be replaced with another if the latter youth is deemed more dangerous to society. That also means that youth could be set free with little alternatives for surveillance, even though they may rightly need to be locked up, Goodwin said.

Moffat County has a greater percentage of youth offenders than the two other counties in the 14th Judicial District. In 2002, the district recorded 200 filings for youth offenders with 114 of those from Moffat County. Of those 114 youth, the community evaluations team served 48.

Moffat County Commission-ers drafted a letter recently in opposition to the state's proposed cuts.

County funds have already been allocated for 2004 and there's little wiggle room to help out the local department that may see its budgets slashed this summer with the state's budget cycle starting up again this summer, said Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raft-opoulos.

"We can't be going in and backfilling all these issues," she said. "(The state) has to figure out a better tax structure. $26,000 is a lot to make up."

Raftopoulos said the impact on local youth and the community could be great if funding for the program can't be found.

"I hate to see what will happen if there's no in-between for kids," she said. "This type of program can really help with youth."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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