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Valley residents have hand in youth justice

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SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Valley youths busted for a misdemeanor won't always face a judge when they are called to be held accountable for their crime.

They'll face their neighbors.

Juvenile offenders in the Valley who commit a misdemeanor have the option of having their case go through the Partnership for Youth Justice Diversion Program, a program set up by the King County Superior Court that allows minors' crimes to be handled locally instead of at the county level in Seattle.

"It's the legal system's best-kept secret," said Matthew David, an area manager for the Partnership for Youth Justice Diversion Program.

Under Washington State law, all first-time misdemeanors committed by minors are required to go through some kind of diversion program. The King County program, which evolved from a juvenile program started in Renton in 1959, has minors appear before a panel of volunteers from their community to be held accountable for their crimes. There are now 25 Community Accountability Boards (CAB) throughout the county, including the Snoqualmie Valley CAB that was set up in 1979.

At the Snoqualmie Valley CAB, like others in the county, a panel of two to three volunteers review cases handed over to them by the county's prosecuting attorney. The cases are all misdemeanors committed by first-time juvenile offenders. The minors are offered the chance to have their cases handled by the CAB, and most accept it. Going through the CAB allows the youth to avoid going before a judge and if they complete their rehabilitation, their crime is stricken from their record.

The youth is brought before the CAB, which usually meets at the Snoqualmie Police Department's building, and interviewed. Then, the child's parent or parents are brought in and talk to the CAB alone. Based on those interviews the CAB comes up with what it calls a diversion agreement to see what the youth can do to pay for their crime, whether it be through financial reparation or community service.

By talking to the offender, the CAB also sees what kind of resources the child can utilize. The CAB will often get the children in touch with Friends of Youth and online educational opportunities that will help them make better choices in the future.

Since 1998, the Snoqualmie Valley CAB has handled anywhere from 27 to 52 cases a year. In 2003, the Snoqualmie Valley CAB handled 27 (16 boys and 11 girls), 24 of which were successfully completed. Children who do not complete their diversion agreements or are multiple offenders are sent to court.

David said the program is a win for everybody, keeping around 3,000 juvenile cases from going to court every year. Sending a child through court costs the county at least $800. A CAB case costs the offending child less than $200, which can be waived if there is financial need.

Also, David said, court is not always good for a child. Those who go to court are more likely to be seen there again in the future.

"We can show statistically that court is bad for kids," David said.

Susan Higley, chair of the Snoqualmie Valley CAB, said the program gives youths a chance to see who their crimes affect. Beyond any financial loss caused by a crime, there is an emotional toll on the community, as well. Higley said children get a chance to apologize for their deeds because they cost the community some peace of mind in addition to monetary damage.

"When you walk out to your car and see a pile of broken glass, that's traumatic," Higley said.

The Valley is a small community and it is not uncommon for CAB volunteers to see families they know come through the door. All the proceedings are confidential, however, and the volunteers are forbidden to talk about the cases outside of the meetings.

Higley said the philosophy behind the community involvement they offer and the second chances they give is that most children are good at heart but do make bad decisions. She said the best part of volunteering for the program has been seeing children get the help they need and address their issues before those bad decisions turn into a lifestyle.

"They know someone cares," said Higley, "They walk out taller."

Editor Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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