Volunteers intervene as juvenile magistrates
Three 17-year-old boys are busted painting graffiti on the back of the old Kmart. Two classmates get into a fistfight after one steals the other’s shoes. A 13-year-old boy hits another student at school.
While these offenses could land them in the juvenile justice system, the teens and their parents opted instead to take their cases before a new juvenile intervention program that keeps them off the court docket, but still holds them accountable for their actions.
“It’s an alternative to court and we really want to give kids a sense of direction and accountability,” said Lisa Davis, Carson City Sheriff’s DARE officer and coordinator of the new Youth Accountability, Directions and Alternatives Team.
The YADA Team, a group of interested volunteers ranging from parents to police officers, worked for the first time Tuesday and reviewed the three cases.
When it was over, the boys who fought were given the task of creating a presentation for a 5th grade class on why fighting was not the right choice; the teens who painted graffiti got 40 hours of community service and must write an apology to the mayor; and the 13-year-old student must successfully complete a wilderness program his father enrolled him in.
But more came out of the appearances than just creative punishment, said Davis. During the course of questioning, one of the 17-year-old boys revealed he’d been struggling in recent months with the deaths of his father and grandfather.
The group decided the boy would benefit from grief counseling, and they made a referral that he receive an assessment toward that goal.
“The best way to describe it is a diversion program. It’s not prevention because they’ve already committed an offense, but it’s a way of intervening on the lower level kids,” said Chief Juvenile Probation Officer John Simms. “Sometimes the worst thing you do is you throw kids in the system, and then you train them to become a probationer. This way they are still being held accountable.”
The juvenile offenders who will be given the YADA option are those who have no juvenile record and who’ve committed low-level offenses, such as graffiti or truancy.
The program came about as a result of Partnership Carson City and Juvenile Probation looking at alternatives for youthful offenders.
Kathy Bartosz, Partnership Carson City director, said YADA was modeled after a similar program in Boulder City, Nev.
“There’s several things we are trying to accomplish – we want to send a message to youth who are committing these entry-levels types of crimes in our community that it’s not acceptable.
“The second thing it does is send a message that we are taking what these kids are doing seriously and it also helps them understand there are consequences,” said Bartosz.
And though juveniles’ records are sealed once someone turns 18, Davis, a former juvenile probation officer, said she’s seen juvenile offenses block scholarships or keep young men and women from being able to enlist in the military.
“For minor stuff it’s not worth the record. A lot of times they can learn from the mistakes,” she said. “And also it’s getting the kids connected into the community because if they become part of the community they are less likely to abuse the community or make bad choices again.
“The earlier we catch them and hold them accountable and plug them into services, they’re less likely to get into trouble.”