Teen court facing funding shortage

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Bossier Parish’s Teen Court program has gained emergency funding to keep it alive through the end of the calendar year but faces uncertain funding after that.

Earlier this month District Attorney Schuyler Marvin requested $28,500 in emergency funding for the Teen Court program from the Police Jury to cover costs from July 1 through the end of the calendar year. During the interim, Marvin and others are seeking to find a long-term funding solution.

Teen Court director Pat Faulkinberry met with the Police Jury Finance Committee May 21 to discuss the program,and said half of the needed emergency funding had been secured.The Police Jury then voted to authorize up to $14,000 to support the program for the rest of the calendar year. Judges are supplying the remainder of the funding.

Officials said initially the Teen Court program was established with a grant from the Louisiana Supreme Court. Later, after the grant expired, Teen Court was funded through the parish Truancy Department that received a percentage of gaming revenue at Louisiana Downs.

“The money has been less and less,” Faulkinberry said. “Something had to be cut.”

What Teen Court does is provide an alternate way of handling offenses by youthful offenders. Not only does it reduce the caseload for judges who otherwise would hear the case, Teen Court dispositions are not part of the record for teens who complete program requirements.

“Teen Court is for first-time offenders age 13-16,” Faulkinberry said. Cases involve matters such as cyber bullying, curfew violations, and traffic violations.

Other than Faulkinberry, who also handles truancy cases, everyone involved in the Teen Court program is a volunteer.

She said there is a $60 court cost for a matter to be handled by Teen Court, and that depending on the offense there could be additional costs. About half of the caseload, she said, consists of traffic violations, which results in a mandatory driving class that costs $30.

“It’s a great educational system,” Faulkinberry said. “We used to have to recruit volunteers but now we don’t have to.”

Teen Court was organized in 2001 and the first case heard in October that year. It has handled 2,600 cases since it was formed, including 142 last year. Faulkinberry said she has also handled 1,045 truancy cases.

Typical sentences handed out in Teen Court require varying amounts of community service chosen from an eight-page list of organizations or agencies. Since the program was started, Faulkinberry said offenders had provided more than 40,000 hours of community service.

Where future funding will come from is uncertain at this time.

Faulkinberry said the program needs about $66,000 a year to operate.

Police Jury members at the May 7 meeting, when the initial funding request was first discussed,  suggested they were willing to provide short-term funding to keep the program alive but were noncommittal on annually funding the program.

They said Teen Court is a worthwhile program they don’t want the parish to lose.

Without Teen Court, cases otherwise would have to go through municipal court or other regular court channels and would cause an overload of the judicial system.

A lot of the value of the program, officials say, is not only saving traditional court time and expense but its educational value and providing an opportunity for more serious offenders to learn from their mistakes.