Every so often I put on my newpaper writer hat and write articles for our local newspaper. Usually it is a promotion piece for some club or organization I am involved with at the time. Recently, a group of community volunteer approached me to do an information piece on the Youth Accoutability Board for Shoshone County. Below is the story that will be in the Shoshone News-Press sometime this week. They do a wonderful service for kids who make a mistake, and might just need a special turn in the right direction.
Youth Accountability Board Gives Second Chance to County Youth
By CAROL ROBERTS
Special to the News-Press
Shoshone County offers an educational opportunity for kids who flirt with disaster, but want to turn their life around.
The Shoshone County Youth Accountability Board is a diversion service offered for first time offenders who are 17 years of age and under, and admit to the charges.
The YAB is made up of a group of volunteer community members who want to help county youth through some tough times in their life.
“It is an opportunity to head off disaster,” said Linda Sepa-Newell, one of the YAB board members. “It is a retooling experience that gives people the opportunity to work with kids and get them back on track.”
If a young offender committed a crime such as shoplifting, vandalism or fighting, the Shoshone County Prosecuting Attorney’s office can recommend the offender and their parents to go through the Youth Accountability Board.
"We have helped over 1,000 youth since the board was formed in 1983,” said Karen Rumpel, one of the original board members. “We average about 25 cases each year.”
One of the advantages of going this route is that the youths will not have a record that could limit them from joining the military, going to college, or other entering vocations that do not allow prior criminal records.
If the Prosecutor’s Office decides to refer a case to the YAB after the youth admits to the charges, a letter is sent to the parents or guardians of the youth, instructing them to contact the designated YAB representative. An investigator sets an appointment to meet with the youth and parents and begins the investigation process.
The case is assigned a date and a time to come before the YAB for a hearing. The investigator presents the facts to the board, and the youth and parents provide the board with information about their perspective on the charges, and answer questions. The YAB then draws up a contract with the youth and parents, which is signed by all parties.
In cases of theft or vandalism, the YAB mediates the cost of the damage, encourages the victim of the crime to face the youth, and helps communication between the two parties.
“Store owners may not know we even exist,” said Sepa-Newell. "Specifics to the contract may cover community service hours, a letter to the victim, an essay, a mandatory jail tour, payment of restitution or other activities deemed appropriate by the board."
“The contracts can be flexible,” said board member Karen Henry. “We try to fit the sentence to the crime, and the kids. Rarely do kids who have gone through this process offend a second time.”
Upon successful completion of the contract, admission to the allegations of the petition will be vacated and the case dismissed.
If the YAB option is chosen there is an $18 fee to go through this process.
“Sometimes antisocial behavior is a thrill to some youth,” said Sepa-Newell. “This process gives the youth a realistic experience, including the jail tour.
"Another value of the program is to teach skills and an opportunity for the youth to see the impact of their illegal activities on the community, and to see the ripple effect.”
Then the youths are given the opportunity to provide community service at local public agencies or businesses, the youths are embraced by the community, and a negative is turned into a positive. It also helps the kids save face by not having a criminal record.
“Even good kids will make a mistake,” said Sepa-Newell. “It is sad when kids have to go through the court system.
"This is a way to stop that process, and being a part of this YAB process as a volunteer is a wonderful thing.”