Volunteers sought for program that aids juvenile offenders
November 25, 2008
By Shannon Lefley
Often referred to as the legal system’s best kept secret, Community Accountability Boards, made up of trained community members, handle nearly 3,000 diverted juvenile cases a year. There are 23 such boards throughout King County, offering youths and their families an alternative to the formal juvenile justice system. Their goal is to balance the needs of victims, communities and offenders. The boards reduce the costs of administering the juvenile justice system while also reducing court caseloads.
“The Issaquah CAB has been quietly diverting young offenders out of the legal system and helping to redirect them in more positive directions for 35 years,” said Matthew David, area manager for the Partnership for Youth Justice in King County, who manages 13 of King County’s 23 boards, including the Issaquah one.
The boards provide an effective form of early intervention that helps both the youth in trouble and the community, according to a press release from the Partnership for Youth Justice.
The Issaquah board is seeking community members who are interested in volunteering.
“We have people from all walks of life who volunteer. There really is no cookie-cutter description,” David said. “We are looking for someone who is open-minded, and someone who cares about the kids in their community.”
While the time commitment is minimal — just a few hours a month — the rewards can be great.
“I like being part of my community, and working with the youth. It is very rewarding. I have met other volunteers that I never would have known otherwise,” said Jane, scheduling secretary for the boards, as well as a volunteer. She asked to leave out her last name to avoid a conflict of interest.
Last year, the Issaquah board helped 43 youths, ages 12-17. Common offenses were theft, simple assault and malicious mischief. Juveniles can also face the board for trespassing and weapon possession.
After interviewing the juvenile offender and his or her family, the board comes up with an accountability plan, or diversion agreement. This plan lays out resources to help the teen to correct the mistakes he or she has made, and reduce the risk of the behavior occurring again.
“We let them know that they made this mess, and now they can clean it up,” David said. “Most kids are appreciative for that chance, because they often don’t know how to do it on their own.”
Last year, the Issaquah board assigned 758 hours of community service, 119 hours of educational sessions, 80 hours of counseling, 19 letters of apology to be written and $237.54 of restitution to be paid to victims.
More than 95 percent of juveniles complete their diversion agreement.
“This gives them closure, so they can look forward and feel good about giving back to their community,” David said.
Those who don’t complete the agreement are sent back through the court system. This means the offense becomes public record, making finding a job or securing an apartment difficult in the future.
“A youth who successfully completes his or her diversion agreement may truthfully say that they have never been convicted of a crime,” David said.
Diversion offers other benefits as well. Youths who have gone through the diversion program are significantly less likely to re-offend, David said. Moreover, those who do re-offend do so less often, and their crimes are overwhelmingly less severe.
“This program has an impact — we have evidence that it works, and it works well,” he said.
“The Issaquah CAB has been quietly diverting young offenders out of the legal system and helping to redirect them in more positive directions for 35 years.”
— Matthew David
area manager for the Partnership for Youth Justice in King County
Shannon Lefley is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.
To volunteer for the Issaquah Community Accountability Board, call 206-296-1131 or 206-296-1136, or e-mail Matthew.David@kingCounty.gov.