Each year Mesa County Partners works with over 1,000 juvenile offenders, helping them to do everything from pay restitution to learn life skills. Now state budget cuts could eliminate all state funding.
When juveniles in Mesa County break the law they have to pay the consequences. Sometimes that means spending time at the division of youth corrections. But if they are lucky it means the Partners Restitution and Community Service Work Program.
"We had over 1,000 juvenile offenders that the Partners program supervised last year," says, Joe Higgins with Mesa County Partners. Higgins says Partners works with youth offenders to help them pay restitution to victims, complete community service and attend life skills and substance abuse prevention classes, to name a few. But state budget cuts in the Colorado Department of Public Safety could spell disaster for the program. Higgins says, "If these drastic cuts come, if we get totally eliminated the state funding, then we'll have no other option but to really cut our staff in half." Half the staff, half the number of offenders in the program.
"So I think its just a bad investment we need to spend the money now, work with the kids and make sure they don't get back into the system," says, Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubinstein. Rubinstein says if funding is cut the kids that can't get into the program will most likely get off with little or no consequences. Rubinstein says, "They probably won't get put to work they won't understand the impact of their crime on the victim the victims might not get their money back."
Last year 89 percent of juveniles in the Partners restitution program completed their court orders and stayed out of trouble. Something Higgins says is a direct influence on the recidivism rate. Higgins says, "If these kids don't get the message while they are young they'll become adult offenders and you'll have to pay later."
This year the partners program laid off a few employees and will have others take furloughs. Higgins says they can survive a small budget cut but if funding is completely eliminated it's the citizens of Mesa County who will end up paying in the long run.
Final decisions on the budget will be made in the fall, Partners is asking concerned citizens to contact Governor Bill Ritter to show their support for Partners, they have already written the governor a letter.