Legislature(2003 - 2004)
03/18/2004 03:31 PM Senate STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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.