Senior Regional Trust Manager
Wells Fargo Bank
Lawmakers on Tuesday, February 1, proposed closing Juvenile Receiving Centers and youth services statewide in an effort to save $4.5 million per year in the state’s budget. This short term approach to balance the 2011 budget could have costly, long term effects not only in terms of public safety but also in overall taxpayer spending.
Utah was one of the leaders in the nation when Juvenile Receiving Centers were created statewide in 1994 and has been a model program for other states to follow. There are currently Receiving Centers in 12 areas of the state serving over 6,000 youth a year; Youth Services Juvenile Receiving Centers alone served 3,500 youth in 2010.
Receiving Centers and Public Safety
Receiving Centers serve as a Safe Place for youth and families to access immediate help 24 hours a day, including free ongoing counseling. Law enforcement also brings in youth who have committed a minor offense – such as shop lifting or skipping school. This allows the police officers to charge the youth and return to the streets quickly while Youth Services contacts the parents to meet with the youth and offer a number of resources. Often, behavioral issues are an outward sign of an inward problem. When treated through counseling or other classes, we can prevent the youth from escalating in the Juvenile Justice System.
If Receiving Centers are eliminated statewide, officers will be forced to either take youth with minor offenses to detention where they will be mingled with more serious juvenile criminals or leave the youth on the streets, including runaway and homeless youth. By not treating the youth early for minor issues, many youth will end up in the foster care system because family problems were not successfully resolved. Youth who did not receive care as juveniles will also advance to the adult corrections system.
Long term Cost for Taxpayers
To put in perspective the cost for taxpayers, Salt Lake County Youth Services receives $800,000 of the statewide receiving center funding each year. The cost for one youth in foster care is $35,000 for just one year. If only a third of the 3,500 juveniles Youth Services treated last year ended up in foster care because no counseling services were available to them or their families, the cost for the state would be a staggering $40 million!
The average cost of a youth in detention is $265 per day. If only a third of the 3,500 juveniles Youth Servicees treated last year were taken to detention because law officers had no other option the cost would be more than $926,000 for an average 3-day stay. And without preventative services, these youth will likely offend again.
Call to Action!
If you are concerned about this short sighted approach that eliminate critical services for our youth when there are many other options available to our legislators to balance the 2011 budget, please contact your local legislator and voice your support for maintaining receiving centers and youth services programs in Utah.