The program was believed to be the first of its kind in Ohio.
By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- A trailblazing township program designed to reduce juvenile crime and help troubled families is out of money and shutting down.
The juvenile diversion program is expected to be shut down Sept. 30 and its lone employee, Director Charlotte Stamp, will be laid off. It's the second time in the past two years that the program has been shut down because of a lack of funds.
The first shutdown occurred in May 2003 as part of township trustees' efforts to cut their budget and avoid a deficit. In August 2003, Mahoning County Juvenile Court gave $67,323 in state funds to the township to reopen the program.
That money, however, has since run out. Trustees said they can't get additional state money because they don't have the cash needed to serve as matching funds under new state requirements.
Last year trustees were allowed to use Stamp's salary and some of the rent from the township's Westchester building, where the juvenile diversion program office is located, as an in-kind match for the grant.
How it works
Young people between the ages of 7 and 17 and their families had been accepted into the program based on referrals from school or judicial officials or the police. Police Det. Sgt. Ray Holmes said officers looked at several factors before deciding if a young criminal offender should be sent into the program instead of juvenile court, including the young person's past criminal record and home life.
"I can't see locking a kid up when he and his family need help," Holmes said. He noted that police stopped sending referrals to the program this month, and that most young people arrested in the future will be sent to juvenile court.
Juvenile court Judge Theresa Dellick said like all juvenile cases, cases that would have gone to the township's juvenile diversion program will instead be handled by court intake officers in the future. Judge Dellick said intake officers handled 2,500 to 2,700 cases last year; the diversion program handled about 70 each year.
After receiving the referral to the diversion program, Stamp would meet with the parents of the young person to discuss any family problems and to teach them parenting skills.
"I don't know how many times I've heard, 'I give my kids everything they want. ... and I don't see why they're not listening to me,'" Stamp said.
Stamp then assigned responsibilities to the juveniles, which can include obeying their parents, attending school, and respecting themselves and others. Those who do not fulfill their responsibilities can be sent to juvenile detention.
About 75 percent to 80 percent of the young people who entered the three-month program each year completed it successfully, Stamp said.
The program was believed to be the first of its kind in the state when it was founded in 1988 by now-retired police Lt. Joe Giampietro. Many police departments now have similar programs.
Giampietro received a national award in 2001 for starting the program.
"I think it's an enormous loss" that the program is being shut down, said Trustee David Ditzler.
Township Clerk Michael Kurish has predicted that the township will end this year barely in the black and that it could face a deficit next year.
Earlier this year, trustees rehired two police officers and seven part-time firefighters who had been laid off using a $40,000 grant from the Mahoning County Drug Task Force and the $68,000 salary of Police Chief Gordon Ellis, who has been deployed with the Ohio Army National Guard.
Ditzler said he believed rehiring the police officers would fill more of an immediate need in the township than using the money to fund the diversion program. Trustee Lisa Oles added that she felt rehiring police officers provided a greater benefit to the community.