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Budget cuts could lead to the closure of several juvenile justice centers across the state, making it harder for youth offenders to be treated in their own communities or earn back the money they need to pay restitution to their victims.
At a legislative committee meeting Friday morning, representatives from the Division of Juvenile Justice Services (JJS) told legislators of the negative impacts of closing the Genesis Work Camp, two rural youth receiving centers and the Weber Valley Detention Center would have on the state.
"If we close all these facilities, it will certainly hamper our ability to intervene early with these kids," Susan Burke, director of JJS, told The Salt Lake Tribune. "Those closures will decrease public safety and our ability to work with these kids."
The agency has asked for $1.6 million to keep the work camp open. Not only does the camp allow youth offenders to work off hundreds of hours of community service and earn money to pay back victims, it also helps them from committing new crimes, Burke said.
About 80 percent of offenders who go to the work camp do not commit a new felony a year after their time there, and about 50 percent haven't committed a new misdemeanor, according to statistics from the department. The camp, located in Draper with 40 beds for boys and 10 for girls, sends offenders out to places like the Salt Lake Equestrian Center, which has hired some of those teens, to do work. Offenders generally stay an average of 62 days and 247 youths were admitted last year. The center serves a large number of rural teens, too.
"The job opportunities are limited there, so this provides that for them," Burke said.
A suggested $5.6 million budget cut would result in the closure of the Cedar City and Blanding Youth Receiving Centers. The nearest center from Cedar City is a 106-mile roundtrip and the one nearest Blanding is a 380-mile roundtrip. Officers currently can drop off unruly youths or those who commit minor or nonchargeable crimes and get back to patrolling within 20 minutes. For the children, the centers provide a place to go after a family fight to cool down and assess their home situation and needs, including free treatment for substance abuse or mental health.
"Once a youth is placed in one of these centers, we can address the problems early and prevent them from going further into the system," Burke said.
The Weber Valley Detention Center, which at nearly 50 years old is the most aged juvenile detention facility in the state, also would close without a $1.5 million budget increase. That closure would increase bed use efficiencies requested by lawmakers since offenders in the 34-bed Weber facility would be farmed out to other centers, Burke said. However, that would reduce the ability for families and clergy to visit the offenders and help with their rehabilitation, said Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City.
"We're not giving an equal opportunity to our youths who are in a vulnerable position," said committee member Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City. "We're making it nearly impossible for these kids in rural parts of the state to get on the right track."