Although there was an increase in the number of Ravalli County youth committing criminal offenses last year, the percentage of minors who commit another crime within one year of their first offense is still very low, according to the Ravalli County Youth Court Services annual report.
"The recidivism rate, or the percentage of youth that re-offend while on supervision within one year, is 7 percent," said Ravalli County chief juvenile probation officer Clint Arneson. "That percentage is the same as the past few years. So even though we have more at-risk youth in the county, the percentage is staying the same, and that tells volumes about the good preventative work being done here."
In 2010, 260 youth appeared in Youth Court Services 351 times for a total of 510 offenses. There are a total of 3,467 at-risk youth, or people between the ages of 12-18, in Ravalli County, up 86 youth from 2008.
"There were 402 criminal offenses committed by Ravalli County kids last year," Arneson explained. "And only 10 of those cases went over to juvenile district court. All the other offenses were dealt with informally with supervision. We only had three youth charged with criminal possession of dangerous drugs, which is not very high at all. So the programming in Ravalli County that is on a preventative basis is a key to our low crime rate."
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Of the 402 criminal offenses processed last year by Youth Court Services, 36 (11 percent) were felony offenses, up slightly from 19 in 2009 but far lower that the 81 felonies committed by youth in 2003.
A total of 108 of last year's youth offenses were status offenses for Minor in Possession of Alcohol, Minor in Possession of Tobacco, Ungovernable, curfew violations and littering.
Of the 108 status offenses 72 of them were Minors in Possession of Alcohol compared to 62 MIPs in 2009. Ravalli County Youth Court Services began processing MIP violations, by far the most common every year, in February 1999.
From January 2010 to December 2010, 50 referrals from Youth Court for underage drinking (first-time possession of alcohol) attended the Sober Saturday educational program with a parent. Several parents requested siblings also attend the class. Additionally, hundreds of youth from the community service program have attended the class over the years when enrollment was low for education and as prevention, Arneson wrote.
"Statistics for underage drinking in Ravalli County have steadily declined over the years, most likely due to increased educational awareness, changes in attitudes about underage drinking through town hall meetings, stricter enforcement, concurrent prevention programs provided in the schools with grants from nonprofit agencies such as Kid's First as well as the use of underage ‘Decoy' buy programs conducted by the DUI Task Force over the last several years," Arneson explained.
Thirteen youth were either transferred to or charged directly into adult District Court in 2010 because of serious offenses.
"In my opinion, that number is much too high," Arneson wrote in the report, which was submitted to District Court judges Jeffrey Langton and Jim Haynes. "I plan on watching this type of case closely this coming year to see if we can do something differently at Youth Court services to ensure we do not have a continuance of those high numbers."
Arneson said that several studies published by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention indicate that disposing of youth in the adult criminal realm is neither effective nor cost effective for all parties involved.
There were some positive numbers from the statistics gathered last year, Arneson noted in his report.
"The community-based diversionary programming that was established by the 21st Judicial District, coupled with our partnership with the Ravalli County Juvenile Detention Center, has taken hold," he wrote. "We are now, more than ever, able to keep our kids in the community while providing effective programming and maintaining community safety."
Arneson said that no Ravalli County youth were committed to the Department of Corrections for placement at Pine Hills for boys or Riverside Youth Correctional facility for girls. Only seven youth were placed in short-term shelter care, and none of those placements lasted longer than 30 days. There were no expensive and ineffective out-of-home placements of any Ravalli County Youth.
"It is really a community coalition at work here," Arneson said. "Law enforcement's ability to gather information and their preventative work has been really effective. There is a lot of accountability. Kids know that if they bring drugs to school or commit crimes, they will be caught and have to face the consequences."
Charmell Owens, the program director of the Ravalli County Drug Free Communities Program, said that it is important for parents to be aware of how easy it is for kids to get prescription drugs or prescription medical marijuana.
"We've heard reports of kids crushing up pills and snorting them, or liquefying them and injecting it," she said. "They get almost an instantaneous high. I'm sure you can imagine the consequences of them doing this. These are prescription drugs, and if the kid has a heart condition they don't know about it's a very dangerous, potentially fatal situation. The kids also need to know that selling prescription drugs is a felony. So swapping your parents' Oxycontin will get you in a lot of trouble."
Owens said people can contact her office at 961-9013 to get information on lock boxes for prescription drugs and other ways to keep track of unused drugs.
"Montana is third in the nation for prescription drug abuse," she said. "We are trying to educate parents to lock up drugs like they would lock up guns."
The Drug Enforcement Administration, along with local law enforcement agencies and the RCDFCP, will be hosting a Nationwide Takeback program on Saturday, April 30, at the Ravalli Fairgrounds in Hamilton. The public is invited to bring in their unused prescription drugs, no questions asked, for proper disposal.
For more information, call Owens at 961-9013.
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or email@example.com.