Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Juvenile offenders could win goodies

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Stay off drugs and in school, and the state may buy you a burger or a day at Paramount's Kings Island.

Hamilton County's Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services agency has a plan to let juveniles who've served time for crimes related to drug and alcohol abuse earn points toward McDonald's gift certificates, a trip to the Mason amusement park and other entertainment.

The goodies are in addition to counseling, drug testing and other services.

"We've been struggling with how to keep these kids engaged," Chief Executive Officer Sherry Knapp said Tuesday. The incentives could start next month.

Hamilton is one of 11 counties statewide experimenting with ways to ease juvenile offenders back into society. The programs enrolled 855 young people, mainly ages 15 to 18, last year. Sixteen percent of the participants were rearrested. In contrast, almost 49 percent of those who didn't participate were rearrested.

Hamilton County's incentives will cost about $20,000 annually, officials estimate, and will come out the county's $350,000 juvenile re-entry allotment.

Auditor Dusty Rhodes, whose office processes all county expenses, is skeptical that the program is good use of taxpayers' money.

"We're paying people not to do bad stuff," Rhodes said. "... When we were kids, we knew if we did something bad we got in trouble."

But the incentives could ultimately save money, according to Joani Moore, an official with the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services.

"If rewarding their positive behavior helps (juveniles) with getting their education, and helps them get a job, then they're less likely to cost taxpayers money over the long run," Moore said.


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