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Frank Ferry: The importance of Community Court

Live from City Hall

Posted: April 30, 2010 9:24 p.m.
Updated: May 1, 2010 6:00 a.m.
 
Youth issues are near and dear to my heart, and also one of the main reasons I wanted to become a city councilmember.

Thousands of young people call Santa Clarita home, and most are really great kids who work hard in school and in the community.

For some, however, their growing years can be difficult and marked by brushes with the law, and the city takes an active stance toward helping these youth through the difficult teenage years so they can emerge stronger on the other side.

To that end, in 2006, the city of Santa Clarita implemented a Community Court Diversion Program as an alternative to the juvenile justice system for first-time, nonviolent juvenile offenders. The program is designed to help ensure that Santa Clarita's juvenile crime is taken seriously, that restitution is made in Santa Clarita and to help youth learn from their mistakes.

The city's Community Court Diversion Program is a partnership with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the William S. Hart Union High School District. Juvenile offenders who commit nonviolent, petty crimes are sentenced by a volunteer judge to perform community service, make restitution, attend diversion classes and pay financial penalties. If the juvenile completes the program successfully, their charges are dismissed.

In 2009, the program saw 113 criminal cases and 151 traffic cases involving local youth. All participants completed the program with a stunning 100-percent compliance. All participants were under court supervision and performed community service.

Teens completed more than 1,000 hours of graffiti removal, eliminating 600 tags citywide, and removed litter in downtown Newhall to assist with the downtown Newhall Redevelopment. Additionally, teens also attended a "Teen Choices" class that focuses on teaching teens to accept responsibility for their actions and make positive choices in the future.

Teen traffic offenders participating in community court also attended the city's Teen Driving Safety Fair and the Youth Grove to learn more about the consequences of driving recklessly. Participants wrote essays on their experience at the city's Youth Grove, located at Central Park, where they listened to iPods detailing each story of more than 70 local teens who lost their lives due to car collisions.

In addition, all 151 traffic offenders participating in the Community Court program attended a four-hour traffic school class covering traffic safety and safe-driving practices and a reckless-driving class taught by trauma nurses from Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, who graphically show the horrific consequences of dangerous driving.

The top-three criminal offenses brought through Community Court in 2009 included curfew violations, smoking-paraphernalia citations and petty theft, while the top three traffic offenses included speeding, failing to stop and unsafe lane-change violations.

The Community Court program also launched its website, santa-clarita.com/communitycourt, with more than 1,000 visitors to the site since it went live in August, 2009. The comprehensive site offers information on the court program, including forms, classes, fees and testimonials.

Throughout the year, the Community Court Diversion program will continue to address public-safety issues locally, in an effort to prevent future crimes and ensure that restitution is made in Santa Clarita.

By giving first-time juvenile offenders an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and head down a new path, the benefits of the program are sure to last long into the future.

For more information on the Community Court Diversion Program, contact Janine Prado, Community Services Administrator at (661) 250-3716 or visit santa-clarita.com. Frank Ferry is a Santa Clarita City Councilmember and can be reached at: fferry@santa-clarita.com. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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