Juvenile probation works toward positive change
PRESCOTT - The Yavapai County Juvenile Probation Department serves 1,800 youths annually.
The department's goal is to change their illegal behavior by adding structure to their lives.
Chief Probation Officer Scott Mabery said 761 youth are on probation at any time, 553 of them on standard probation and 208 on intensive probation.
However, not all youth who get into trouble end up on probation.
Mabery said when law enforcement officers arrest a child, they either take the child to juvenile detention or send juvenile probation the paperwork.
Mabery said probation officers review each case for the County Attorney's Office. "Most of the case we handle through diversion. If the child is in trouble for the first time on a minor offense, we typically do not refer them to the county attorney's office. We would meet with the child, and his or her parents, and develop a diversion plan," Mabery said.
The child is not under department supervision in the community while on the diversion plan. Mabery said if the youth completes everything in the plan, no further action necessary.
"If the youth does not complete the diversion plan, they are cited into court and placed on probation," he said.
Mabery said, as a condition of probation, youth must attend school and/or work.
In addition to probation, the court could order youthful offenders to serve a term of detention, home detention or electronic monitoring.
Mabery said 40 youth currently are currently serving time in detention. The department has 26 slots for home detention and can handle 20 youth sentenced to electronic monitoring.
Youth sentenced to the detention center must attend school four hours each day.
Mabery said juvenile detention offers youth 40 programs, including counseling, life skills, tutoring and substance abuse.
Juvenile probation is a branch of the Superior Court. Yavapai County Presiding Judge Robert Brutinel also is the presiding juvenile judge.
Mabery supervises 25 probation officers, 35 detention officers and seven staff members. Juvenile probation has offices in Cottonwood, Prescott and Prescott Valley.
"We run a work crew and kids can complete their community restitution, formerly known as community service," Mabery said.
The department also collects victim restitution.
Mabery said juvenile probation has a few upcoming projects. "We are opening a day-reporting center in the Verde Valley for kids on probation. It is a place for them to go after school and get off the streets. They can receive tutoring and take part in life skill classes."
Juvenile probation officials worked with Yavapai College to develop a 10-week summer program.
The Youth Step Program provides job training. Youth must complete the job application process and interview before they get a job.
Mabery said 13 youth on each side of the mountain would participate in the program. The youth must attend school in the morning and work in the afternoon.
"The kids are paid, and half of their paychecks go toward probation costs," Mabery said.
Mabery said drug offenses remain the primary offenses by youth.
"Seventy percent of the drug offenses involve marijuana. Then comes methamphetamine. I think the publicity surrounding meth has attributed to reduced use," Mabery said.
The number two offense is alcohol. However, Mabery said his department is seeing an increase in the number of domestic violence cases among youth.
"These is a lot of dysfunction in some families," he said. "We are also seeing a lot of mental health problems, which are hard to manage in detention. We need more foster homes."
Officials also note an increase in juvenile sex offenders, which Mabery blames on easy access to the Internet, television and video games.
Mabery said juvenile detention has a 40 percent recidivism rate.
"The majority of kids we never see again," he said.
The greatest asset at juvenile probation, Mabery said, is people.
"This is a high stress job with a high turnover. People don't get into it for the money. Their heart has to be in it. Of all the programs we have and everything we do, the one thing that is not expendable is the staff," Mabery said.
Detention officer Lisa Bailey is a prime example of someone whose heart is in her work.
Mabery said Bailey has taken it on herself to paint murals throughout the detention center.
She has covered the walls in the dining room, the girl's day room, the boy's day room and even the recreation yard.
Mabery said the murals have reduced outbursts of anger and the youth are taking better care of the rooms.
"The vision of juvenile probation is to influence a positive change," Mabery said.