Juvenile crime has decreased by more than 100 cases in each of the last three years in Ravalli County, Mt. – an achievement local officials credit to stepped-up prevention efforts and a graduated sanctioning system, says County News, published by the National Association of Counties. “Simply, it is upping the ante every time a kid comes into the office,” said Clint Arneson, chief juvenile probation officer. Youthful offenders can still end up before a judge, but only if other methods in the system's “balanced approach” and restorative justice model don't work.
Juvenile courts in Ravalli County (pop. 39,000) had an average of 15 cases per week in 1998. Today, that figure has dropped to about one. Under graduated sanctioning, probation officers serve as “gate keepers” for the court. The system is similar to the “three-strike” approach to crime that has been adopted by several states. For a first misdemeanor offense, juveniles, their parents or guardians, and sometimes an attorney, meet with Youth Court Services. The probation officer will enter into a contract with all parties, outlining the youths' and parents' obligations. For a second offense, the youth would enter informal supervised probation. A third strike could bring a lengthier stay in the county's juvenile jail. “The detention center itself is a deterrent for these kids,” said Lori Rodrick, who runs the facility.