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Keeping kids accountable

Enumclaw volunteers provide alternative to the juvenile justice system

By Brenda Sexton

The Courier-Herald

Quietly, for the past 30 years, the Enumclaw Community Accountability Board (CAB) has been doing exactly what its name implies - holding the community's young people responsible for their actions, diverting them from the formal, juvenile justice system to community-based volunteers who hold them accountable for their choices and help steer them in the direction to avoid trouble in the future. Youth are given the opportunity to "make things right" and then put the offense behind them.

"We really do care about the kids in the community," said Tim Grennan, who serves as the Enumclaw Community Accountability Board chairman.

"The ideal is the kids meet with someone in their community that holds them accountable for their choices," said Matthew David, who serves as the area manager for the county's Partnership for Youth Justice, a program of King County Superior Court, which authorizes the Community Accountability Boards. "They can see how their activities affect other people."

King County's accountability boards began in 1959 in Renton. According to David, there are 23 Community Accountability Boards (he oversees 13) throughout the county using more than 300 trained volunteers who meet on a regular basis to handle about 3,000 diverted juvenile cases a year.

The CAB's role is to balance the needs of victims, communities and offenders, and restore each of these parties, as fully as possible, from the effects of crime. The board's goals are to increase the juvenile's awareness of the relationship between the offense committed and the people harmed by his actions.

"It holds them accountable, but also makes them part of the process," David said.

Rather than travel to Seattle and wade through the juvenile court system, some cases, screened by the prosecutor, are turned over to local CABs. For most youth it is their first offense. The boundaries of CABs are based on neighborhoods or school districts. Enumclaw's CAB, for example, uses the same boundaries as the Enumclaw School District, regardless of where the crime was committed.

Each prospective volunteer is carefully screened and trained by the Superior Court before serving on a board.

"If they come to us we assume they're guilty," said Margie Stensen, who has been on the Enumclaw board since its inception. Her husband Mike has also been a board member for 29 years.

Youth who comes to the CAB does not get their day in court. They come to the board to find a resolution, whether it be restitution, counseling or community service.

"I think the majority are good kids that did something stupid or gave in to peer pressure," Stensen said.

"We want our kids to succeed," David said. "We're all about helping kids get back on track. The majority are good kids that have done something wrong, maybe made a bad choice and got caught doing things kids do," he said.

The board gets a quick snapshot of the offense, a brief family background and some information about school.

The Enumclaw CAB interviews offenders and their parents and then drafts a plan holding the youth accountable and linking the youth with community resources which can help them address issues that may have been at the root of their offense.

"The board says, 'you made a mess here, now how are we going to clean this up?'" David said.

The diversion agreement balances the needs of the victim, the community, and the offender and may require: community service, classes, counseling, restitution to victims, letters of apology, essays, and/or other services and sanctions. More than 90 percent of youth who participate in the program complete the program successfully. Those who do not complete the conditions of their agreement must appear in Juvenile Court in Seattle.

Youth who successfully complete the Partnership for Youth Justice Diversion Program do not appear in court and do not have a conviction or criminal record as a result of their offense.

Confidentiality is key

The Partnership for Youth Justice bills itself as the legal system's best kept secret because of the confidentiality in which the board works protects the youth and their families.

Guardians and youth are interviewed separately and even the information obtained during those interviews is not shared with the other party. Board volunteers will not even acknowledge program youth in a chance encounter unless the youth initiates the contact.

Stensen said the confidentiality is one reason a lot of people don't know about the board.

"It's good that nobody knows about us," said Joan Adams. For more than 15 years, Adams has played the role of court liaison and board consultant. "We're very, very, very, big on confidentiality."

Local statistics

In the past few years, Enumclaw CAB members said they have seen a significant drop in the number of cases through their program.

Stensen said at one time in the board's early years it saw as many as 250 cases, most of those drug and alcohol related. Today, most drug- and alcohol-related cases go to a different diversion program.

What she has seen is an increase in is assault and an equal number, these days, of girl and boy offenders.

According to statistics supplied by David, in 2004, the Enumclaw CAB saw 22 youth ages 11 to 17; 13 were male and nine were female. Some of the more common offenses included theft and simple assault. There were also a few domestic violence offenses. Other offenses included trespassing and weapon possession.

In 2004, nine Enumclaw youth were assigned 121 hours of community service in the Enumclaw area. Four youth were assigned essays or letters of apology. Youth in the program paid $146 in restitution to victims. Three youth were assigned a total of 42 hours educational sessions and 18 youth were assigned 80 hours of counseling.

The majority of the 2004 cases were from Enumclaw or police departments outside the immediate area.

Of the total case load, the board returned seven back to juvenile court either because they moved out of the board's jurisdiction or they were not in compliance.

It's working

"We don't see too many kids a second time," Stensen said. "It's been really successful."

David said he can "tell you the kids don't return to the system," but he doesn't have the statistics to back it up.

Enumclaw CAB member Gregg Collette is one of those statistics. He has sat on both sides of the table.

"I was in trouble when I was 12," he said.

"It's a much more human process. I was mortified."

Collette said he did his time - community service and then when he was 19, he returned to the board, but this time as a volunteer. After a few years, he moved off to college. After earning a teaching degree, he returned to Enumclaw's CAB again.

"Sometimes they connect with him more than us," Grennan said about Collette, referring to his younger age and his background.

Community Accountability Boards have enormous positive impact on young people and their families, David said. They provide an effective form of early intervention that helps both the youth in trouble and the community.

Adams said she never realized the impact until the day a 30-year-old approached her and said he would never forget what she told him. "He was successful and obviously doing great," Adams said. "He looked me in the eye and said, 'You told me whatever choices I make now, positive or negative, they're my choices to make.'"

"It feels good to make a positive difference in someone's life," she said.

On the flip side, Adams said, "There are the really sad cases. The ones you know you can't help them and it breaks your heart."

Secondary benefits from the program are the reduced cost of administering the juvenile justice system and reduced court caseloads.

Volunteers needed

The Enumclaw Community Accountability Board is currently seeking interested members of the community to volunteer as board members. The board has six volunteers, but could use more. Volunteers undergo a background check and are required to attend the Partnership for Youth Justice volunteer training, which is offered four times each year. While the time commitment for volunteers is minimal (one night per month), the impact and rewards are great, David said.

Anyone interested in volunteering, and can spare two hours per month, may call 206-296-1131 or visit www.metrokc.gov/kcsc/volunteer.htm for more information.

The board also is in need of a community meeting room. Any business or community organization with an area that may meet the board's needs are invited to call the same numbers listed above.

Brenda Sexton can be reached at bsexton@courierherald.com.

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