A look into juvenile drug court

BENTON/FRANKLIN COUNTIES - Sweeping budget cuts have affected teen criminals right here in the Tri-Cities. It's meant fewer kids can sign up for drug court. The program aims to get kids in treatment to stop the cycle of crime. We look at how it's attempting this, while serving half of the kids it once did.

For 'Shawna,' juvenile drug court has meant a new life. And it all started with a choice.

"You have to really want it, you have to really, really want it for yourself," said drug court participant "Shawna."

Shawna wanted it. And now she's one of twelve juveniles currently in the program. There were twice as many kids three years ago. But state and federal funding fell away. Benton County can only afford 12 at a time. Which can mean a long wait. 'Shawna' waited for about four months. But doesn't regret it.

"If I didn't go through this program, I'd be stuck in a really bad position," added 'Shawna.'

Drug Court erases a juvenile's record in exchange for successful drug treatment through intensive therapy and weekly court meetings. WSU studied the efforts of similar programs and found drug court helps curb repeat felony offenses.

"We want them to be drug free, crime free. We want to reunite the families to be a healthy group," said Juvenile Drug Court Counselor Troy Grall.

Troy Gall is the drug court counselor. He says this is a proven way to get teens clean and off the streets. It can take anywhere between 15 to 18 months to complete. Law enforcement, a prosecutor and county commissioner are all present for graduations.

"Some kids say it's like their drug court family. They come here, feel supported, and if they're doing something wrong, we're also going to let them know that," said Grall.

The program's intensive nature means a steeper cost. Juvenile drug court is considered in both counties for each budget cycle. Benton County officials tell us a possible crime tax could allow more participants. Working to get more teens like make a change.

"It's a good program to go into. It just takes a lot of work," said 'Shawna.'

Franklin County had to eliminate juvenile drug court after the state and federal funding ran out. Franklin County Commissioner Rick Miller says cost of drug court will be looked at again when the budget is reviewed in September.
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