Wednesday Jul 08 2009
Placer peer court closes
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
Loss of $100,000 shuts 18-year program
After 18 years of trying to help youth learn from their mistakes, the Placer County Peer Court program will close. Officials announced the closure Wednesday citing budget cuts. The program will lose about $100,000 of its $200,000 budget in funding this year, according to Karen Green, Placer County Peer Court coordinator. That money typically comes from the Placer County Superior court but has been cut this year. Placer County Probation reportedly was set to continue contributing $80,000 to the program, but the county said it would not extend that contract unless there was additional funding from other sources, the release stated. Green said the decision came as a surprise to program officials. She said they requested a 30-day extension to their contract, which expired June 30, but were told last week that would not happen. Retired Placer County Judge Richard Couzens added that the program initially thought some of the court funding would be cut but did not anticipate losing the entire amount. “While I certainly understand the court’s need to take fairly strong action for budget items, it is certainly distressing,” Couzens said. As a result, they have closed their doors and are no longer hearing cases. Anita Yoder, spokeswoman for Placer County, said because the program was a multi-agency operation, the county is currently not in a position to pick up the remainder of the funding responsibility that the Superior court previously provided. “I am aware there are ongoing conversations about it,” Yoder said, adding that those involved are trying to find a way to work together on the program. Couzens said peer court advocates are currently trying to find other funding sources both private and public. Jake Chatters, Placer County Superior Court CEO, said unfortunately the funding was cut to peer court and other programs because of the court’s significant budget deficit. “The court continues to believe in the value of peer court and the service it provides our youth and community as a whole,” Chatters said. “Unfortunately the fiscal situation necessitates reductions.” Green said she’s uncertain about what will happen to those who were in the peer court system. “We’re caught between the court and the county,” Green said. “Unfortunately there are a lot of kids and families that will not have the benefit of making a mistake and having it handled at a lower level.” What did peer court offer? Green and Couzens both cited the benefits of peer court in written statements. “The mission is simple: to reduce juvenile crime in Placer County,” Couzens said. Couzens, who co-founded the program in 1991, said the current program handles more than 300 cases a year. He added that less than 3 percent return as offenders. “Some 5,000 high school age students receive the prevention lessons annually,” Couzens said. “Prevention and diversion through education and accountability are the goals.” Green said Placer Peer Court program works with county law enforcement agencies, school resource officers and the probation department. “All agree that by intervening early and quickly many problems are prevented from becoming worse and thus costing everyone more,” Green stated. She estimated that youth sentenced through the peer court system served about 10,000 hours in the community. Jack Duran, a Roseville attorney who started volunteering for the program when he was a law school student, said it was sad to receive the news Wednesday morning. “It gave kids a bird’s eye view of what they were facing,” Duran said. “It gave them a little insight into a process they really don’t want to be a part of.” Duran said during his time first as a mentoring attorney and later as a judge, he watched high school and junior high students give “exceptional” defenses of their clients. He said he’s also helped defendants accept their sentence of varying community service. Duran said one of the reasons why he thinks the program was effective was because those who were sentenced by peer court were also required to come back and serve at least three times as peer court jurors. “They see it from two points of view – from their own perspective of going through the process and then actually sitting in a jury box and taking a look at someone else’s case,” Duran said. “It teaches them responsibility when they’re entrusted with someone else’s livelihood to a certain extent.” The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a comment.