Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Juvenile Probation Department has plan to focus on at-risk kids

PACT program offers new interview techniques

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Probation Department is working with five other counties in southern Idaho to implement a plan to get low-risk kids out of the system and focus department resources on the kids who need them most.

Positive Achievement Change Tool (PACT) interview techniques help identify juvenile offenders at low risk for continued trouble with the law. Blaine County Chief Probation Officer Teresa Espedal told the Blaine County Commission on Tuesday, March 4, that since its inception on Feb. 1, the PACT technique has been used 155 times in Region 5, which covers eight counties in south-central Idaho.

"Studies have shown that offenders at low risk for recidivism can actually be harmed if they remain in the system," Espedal said. "Unfortunately, these clients sometimes remain in the system because they are the most enjoyable kids to work with."

Using in-depth interview techniques, PACT-trained juvenile justice personnel measure a juvenile's risk of re-offending based on 12 parameters: criminal history, school, use of free time, employment, relationships, family, living arrangements, alcohol and drugs, mental health, attitudes/behaviors, aggression and skills.

Espedal hopes the PACT will lead to juvenile justice employees' spending more time with high-risk offenders.

"Our goal is to use community-based resources rather than detention whenever possible," she said. "We want to change kids and families rather than pay for jail."

Espedal also reported to the commission lower-than-average juvenile offenses this year.

"This is a good time to be creative in implementing the PACT plan," she said. "With a lower case load right now, we can also put more resources into our outreach programs like the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Youth Adult Konnections."

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