JUVENILE PROBATION Youth program to continue despite decreased funding
Operation Nightlight aims to help reduce delinquency as well as truancy.
By MARY GRZEBIENIAK
MERCER, Pa. -- A program credited with saving Mercer County almost a half-million dollars over the past year by intensifying supervision of at-risk county juveniles will continue despite a cut in state funding.
Mark Benedetto, the county's chief juvenile probation officer, said that he has cut the daylight component of Operation Nightlight/Daylight and will use federal "4E funds" derived from Aid to Families with Dependent Children to make it possible to continue the program after Oct. 1.
The cuts keep the county's contribution at $22,142, only about $1,000 more than last year.
The three-year-old program pays juvenile probation officers to ride with police in teams who visit youth from grades seven to 12 after school hours to make sure they are observing probation terms.
Benedetto said the teams also go to other places frequented by young people, such as high school football and basketball games. The object is to reduce delinquency and recidivism as well as truancy and disciplinary referrals. Improvement of family functioning and parenting skills is another goal.
Money to pay participating police in the Sharon and Southwest Mercer County regional police departments comes from Weed & amp; Seed, another program aimed at reducing crime. That program targets Sharon and Farrell, where some high-crime areas exist.
Benedetto said Operation Nightlight/Daylight was originally funded for three years by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The PCCD reduced its grant award in the second and third years, and Benedetto said he tapped other funding sources to make up the difference.
The first year, the state granted $95,574 for the program. In the second year, the state contribution fell to $28,098, but a $19,000 grant from Community Revitalization and $9,099 from the District Attorney's drug forfeiture funds brought the budget up to $56,197.
Last year, the PCCD granted only $14,049. Benedetto said he used $21,074 in 4E funds after learning that they were allowed to be used as a local share.
For the first time last year, the county also provided support, giving $21,074, for a total of $56,197.
This coming year, PCCD will no longer provide funds. But, Benedetto said, the county will provide $22,142, and the 4E funding will also provide $22,142 to allow for a scaled-down program that will total $44,284.
Benedetto said the program's daytime component, which focused on school truancy, will be eliminated to make it affordable.
He said the program has been a major factor in reducing the number of "days of care," or days that county juvenile offenders spend in institutions.
This translates into $479,301 less that Mercer County spent to institutionalize youth in the past year than the $1.2 million cost the year the program began in 2002. The first year saw a $103,344 reduction and the second year a $15,272 reduction in addition to the first year's total.
The way this comes about, he said, is that juveniles can be released sooner from institutions into supervised probation because Operation Nightlight provides a more intense supervision while they live at home.
The program is being studied at Penn State University as a possible model for other counties, and it also received an award in 2004, Benedetto said.