Legislature(2003 - 2004)

03/18/2004 03:31 PM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
           SB 292-USE CRIMINAL FINES FOR YOUTH COURTS                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS announced SB 292 to be up for consideration.                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR BERT  STEDMAN, sponsor  of SB  292, explained  that youth                                                               
courts provide  a way for the  state to deal with  youths who are                                                               
first time misdemeanants without  adversely affecting their adult                                                               
record  and without  impacting the  adult judicial  system. These                                                               
are courts that  are established and run by youths  and provide a                                                               
good educational  tool for all participants.  The recidivism rate                                                               
is considerably lower than the regular court system.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Even  though  youth  court  cases cost  less  than  district  and                                                               
superior court cases, stable funding  threatens the future of the                                                               
programs. This  bill provides  the much-needed  financial support                                                               
so that youth  courts can continue to  provide unique, successful                                                               
and cost effective services to  the state. Finally, he noted that                                                               
there is considerable  support for this legislation  in the House                                                               
for Representative Ogg's companion bill.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR  GARY STEVENS  asked him  to speak  briefly to  the funding                                                               
mechanism.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  STEDMAN estimated  that the  fiscal note  is double  the                                                               
actual  cost, which  he believes  to be  about $500,000.  "On the                                                               
House side  they've added in  an additional $200,000 in  the HESS                                                               
budget. They've pigeonholed some money there."                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  GRETCHEN GUESS  said she  agrees that  youth courts  are                                                               
more efficient, but  she wanted to know where the  money goes now                                                               
and where would funds be diverted from to go to youth courts.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEDMAN deferred to the division director.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR GUESS asked if there was a proposed amendment.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEDMAN predicted that the  proposal to use 25 percent of                                                               
the  court-imposed fines  would change  and the  percentage would                                                               
probably go down.                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
PATRICIA  WARE,  director of  the  Division  of Juvenile  Justice                                                               
within  the  Department of  Health  and  Social Services  (DHSS),                                                               
expressed strong support  for youth courts. "They  are a critical                                                               
component of Alaska's juvenile justice system in the state."                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
The  amendment the  division suggested  for  the companion  House                                                               
bill calls for allocating approximately  10 percent of the court-                                                               
imposed fines for the program. Based  on FY03 data from the court                                                               
system, that would yield approximately $430,000 per year.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
She  expanded on  the sponsor's  funding explanation  saying that                                                               
she understood that  in the House Finance  subcommittee close out                                                               
a new  budget component  entitled "Youth  Courts" is  proposed in                                                               
the division  budget. The  Division of  Youth Justice  would move                                                               
existing general funds to pay  for youth courts and an additional                                                               
$200,000  would be  added.  "So  on the  House  side the  current                                                               
total, by the time they  added in some additional federal dollars                                                               
that  we  still  have  remaining, was  $508,300.  That  was  CSHB
375(FIN)."                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR HOFFMAN asked how the $508,000 compared to last year.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MS. WARE replied they are  paying $279,500 general fund for youth                                                               
courts this fiscal  year and they have $28,800  in federal money.                                                               
"So this  is basically an  additional $200,000 as offered  by the                                                               
House side."                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  HOFFMAN questioned  the information  in his  packet that                                                               
stated, "an increment of $200,000  added by Representative Hawker                                                               
and the HESS  subcommittee will bring the youth court  back up to                                                               
$508,000."                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
MS.  WARE noted  that she  didn't have  the documentation  he was                                                               
referencing then explained that  DHSS historically paid for youth                                                               
courts with  federal dollars, which have  become scarce. Although                                                               
she wasn't  sure what  was meant  by "back  up," she  assured him                                                               
that the division  made a commitment to support  youth courts and                                                               
had cut other programs so that they could continue that support.                                                                
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEDMAN  stated, "that roughly  adds into the  top number                                                               
of total  funds used in 2002  so it's trying to  move the funding                                                               
amount back up to where youths  courts were, for lack of a better                                                               
word, fully funded."                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  GUESS asked  if there  was increasing  demand for  youth                                                               
courts.                                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
MS. WARE assured  her there is increased demand  and the division                                                               
has,  "pretty  much  done  what  we  can  do  with  the  existing                                                               
funding."                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR GUESS asked if there  was demand for the amount specified                                                               
in the fiscal note.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MS.  WARE  contended  that amount  of  funding  wasn't  necessary                                                               
because  it would  more than  double what  is currently  spent on                                                               
youth  courts. The  $508,000 that  is  on the  table includes  an                                                               
additional $200,000, which would allow for expansion.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS judged  that statement  to be  remarkable. He                                                               
said, "I've never heard anybody  before the State Affairs ask for                                                               
less money. How wonderful."                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR GUESS stated  that she would like to know  more about the                                                               
areas of demand  so that those areas could be  targeted since the                                                               
efficacy  of the  program is  documented. She  asked Ms.  Ware to                                                               
provide that information at some point.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
She  questioned  where  and  how   the  court-imposed  fines  are                                                               
currently allocated  and what  might and might  not be  funded in                                                               
the future.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
MS.  WARE confessed  that she  wasn't the  best person  to answer                                                               
that question,  but she  did know  that the  money goes  into the                                                               
general fund.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR GUESS remarked that in some  ways the fiscal note is zero                                                               
because the money is rerouted rather than new.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS understood how  money in the adult  system is                                                               
spent, but  he wasn't sure whether  anyone is paid in  the youth-                                                               
court system.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
MS. WARE stated  that youth courts are a great  bang for the buck                                                               
because students and attorneys donate  their time. Sometimes they                                                               
have to pay  rent and some of  the larger youth courts  pay for a                                                               
portion  of  the salary  for  an  executive director  or  program                                                               
coordinator, but volunteers do most of the work.                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Juveniles  are  referred to  youth  court  from the  Division  of                                                               
Juvenile Justice where the initial  screening and intake is done.                                                               
Whenever  appropriate the  cases are  referred to  the non-profit                                                               
agency that  runs the youth court.  She referred to a  data sheet                                                               
and stated that, "The amount of  match for what they actually get                                                               
in  grants is  striking. In  FY04 youth  courts across  the state                                                               
received $270,000 with community  panels and youth court matching                                                               
funds of  $490,000 in  cash, $370,000 in  in-kind services  for a                                                               
total of $1.13  million." In addition to that,  youth courts also                                                               
provide many community work-service hours and restitution.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
To document that the Division  of Juvenile Justice relies heavily                                                               
on youth  courts she  pointed out  that in  the last  fiscal year                                                               
they handled 14 percent of the referrals made to the division.                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  HOFFMAN asked  if  she had  a list  of  where the  youth                                                               
courts are located.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
MS.  WARE  named:  Anchorage,  Mat-Su,  Delta  Junction,  Juneau,                                                               
Kenai/Homer,   Kodiak,   Nome,  Fairbanks,   Ketchikan,   Valdez,                                                               
Wrangell, and Kake.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR HOFFMAN noted there is no youth court in Bethel.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
MS. WARE told him the division  awarded a grant for a youth court                                                               
in Bethel,  but the non-profit  provider that accepted  the grant                                                               
didn't get the  program started. This grant cycle  they have been                                                               
working with the Yukon Kuskokwim  Health Corporation to refinance                                                               
children's services  to qualify for 100  percent federal Medicaid                                                               
so the  division won't be  working with Bethel this  fiscal year,                                                               
but they hope to do so in the future.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEDMAN made  a motion to amend as follows:  Page 1, line                                                               
9 insert, "up to" before "25 percent".                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
There was no objection and the amendment was adopted.                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY STEVENS opened public testimony.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
WHITNEY CUSHING  JR. testified via  teleconference from  Homer in                                                               
support of  SB 292. As the  President of the United  Youth Courts                                                               
of Alaska  he asserted that,  other than the  Alaska Legislature,                                                               
no  group has  "a greater  commitment to  community and  value of                                                               
service." They provide  a valuable service across  the state, are                                                               
very cost  effective, and have remarkably  reduced the recidivism                                                               
rate.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
TAPE 04-18, SIDE B                                                                                                            
3:20 pm                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                              
DIANE IVY-DAHLIN testified via  teleconference from Wrangell. She                                                               
is the  youth court  coordinator in  the community  and requested                                                               
funding  support   for  statewide  youth  court   programs.  "The                                                               
Wrangell Youth  Court Program has  become one of  our communities                                                               
fastest  growing youth  led diversionary  programs." In  the last                                                               
three  years,  first-time-offender   juvenile  crime  rates  have                                                               
decreased by more  than 30 percent and youth  membership has more                                                               
than quadrupled.  These programs have  proven to be a  success in                                                               
Alaska  and nationwide.  She encouraged  members  to ensure  that                                                               
there is a  youth court program in each of  their communities and                                                               
"to listen to what these future leaders have to offer."                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  STEDMAN   thanked  Ms.  Ivy-Dahlin  for   her  work  and                                                               
suggested that  Senator Hoffman was probably  listening carefully                                                               
to the successful report from Wrangell.                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
ALEHANDRA CHAVARRIA  testified via teleconference  from Ketchikan                                                               
to say  that he has  been involved in  the local youth  court for                                                               
the last three years. He  reported that the Ketchikan Youth Court                                                               
has very  effectively provided restorative justice  sentencing to                                                               
more than  100 youths in  the community. They have  provided over                                                               
8,000  hours   of  service  to   various  organizations   in  the                                                               
community.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR  STEDMAN thanked  the young  citizens from  Ketchikan who                                                               
took time to testify.                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
TIMOTHY  A. LOWER  testified via  teleconference  as the  interim                                                               
director of the  Sitka Youth Court, a volunteer  position that he                                                               
is proud  to hold. He  reported that,  "both the victims  and the                                                               
offenders  who  have  participated  in  the  restorative  justice                                                               
activities  have  consistently  expressed satisfaction  with  the                                                               
outcomes of  their cases."  When the  program was  active between                                                               
November 1999  and March  2003, no one  that completed  the Sitka                                                               
program re-offended. They  estimate that recidivism is  now up to                                                               
about 3 percent,  but that is still remarkably low.  Because of a                                                               
lack of stable  long-term funding, the program was  moved among a                                                               
variety of non-profits and is now inactive.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
"SB 292 presents a hope for  a different future for Alaskan youth                                                               
courts.  It  offers  an  opportunity  for  volunteers  and  staff                                                               
members of these other courts in  our state to continue to pursue                                                               
community healing." He urged members to support the bill.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR STEDMAN asked how many  active volunteers participated in                                                               
the Sitka Youth Court.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MR. LOWER thought  they had about 12 active members  at any given                                                               
time. Now  they have two  youths who  are involved to  the extent                                                               
possible since the court is inactive.                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
JESSE  KINSLAND  testified  via teleconference  from  Mat-Su.  He                                                               
stated that he has been with  the program for three years and has                                                               
benefited personally.  Currently he  is the ethics  secretary and                                                               
one of  his jobs is to  review defendant's surveys. He  has found                                                               
that defendants are generally appreciative  of the program and of                                                               
particular   benefit  is   the  fact   that  after   successfully                                                               
completing the program the defendant has no criminal record.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
There was no further public testimony.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS noted  that the amended  bill was  before the                                                               
committee. There  were no  further questions  or comments  and he                                                               
asked for a motion.                                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
SENATOR GUESS made  a motion to move CSSB  292(STA) with attached                                                               
fiscal note. There being no objection, it was so ordered.                                                                       

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