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Editorial: County Effort Keeps Youths on Better Path

The numbers tell the story.

A Bernalillo County initiative to help juvenile offenders stay out of trouble appears to be working.

Since the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative was started in 1999, it has become a national model for reforming the juvenile system. Fewer juveniles are entering the court system and ending up in the juvenile detention center than a decade ago.

According to a study by the county Youth Services Center, the center’s average daily population dropped by 45 percent between 2000 and 2010. In the past four years, bench warrants issued for youths decreased by 48 percent. And misdemeanor offenses referred to juvenile probation are down 30 percent.

Working with Children’s Court and other agencies, the center designed programs to help teens and children stay out of trouble. Most of these kids needed services, not incarceration with hard-core offenders. So the county built a mental health clinic so the youths could get counseling faster. Other efforts were community custody programs tailored for boys and girls, an alternative school and case managers to evaluate each child’s needs.

Not only are the programs working, but they are more cost effective — about $33 a day to keep a child in an alternative program, compared with $285 to keep a child in detention.

And that’s a story worth retelling.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.