Getting juvenile criminals to pay restitution used to be like getting a bunch of turnips to participate in a blood drive.
Because most juveniles don't have jobs, their parents or the victims paid for their crimes.However, thanks to the Utah Juvenile Court's new work restitution program, juvenile criminals are no longer getting off cost-free. If they can't pay for damaged or stolen items with cash, they'll do it with sweat.
"If the kids don't have the ability to pay, the judge is ordering them to work it off in some kind of community project," said Wanda Santiago, special service officer for the 4th District Juvenile Court.
Juveniles ordered into the program are paid an hourly rate for doing cleaning work at schools, churches and other public buildings. They also do work for the National Guard, the U.S. Forest Service and work with the elderly.
The money they earn goes back to the court to pay off their fines or to pay restitution to their victims. The program is financed with money the court receives from other fines and fees.
According to state court officials, Utah juvenile offenders last year worked more than 217,000 hours in community service programs to a pay off court-ordered restitutions and fines. About 800 Utah County juveniles worked more than 60,000 hours to pay $118,000 in restitution.
However, restitution is not the only benefit of the program, Santiago said. The program helps the youths understand obligations and helps change many of the bad attitudes some juveniles have. It's a constructive way of teaching juvenile offenders a lesson, she said.
"We stress from the time they start to the time they finish that it's a way for them to pay back the community for what they have taken," Santiago said.
The program also is receiving good reviews from most parents, victims and community officials. Most organizations are supportive of the program because they see the benefits. Utah County and Orem City both donated vehicles to transport the work crews.
"We're contributing to the community and developing youth at the same time. It's a very win-win program," Santiago said.
Kent Cornaby, U.S. Forest Service ranger at the Spanish Fork Ranger District, said most of the improvements done at local campgrounds last year were done by juvenile work crews. This year the crews will install horse facilities at some campgrounds and will build about 20 new campsites at the Tinney Flat Campground in Santaquin Canyon. Without these juvenile work crews, the Forest Service would not be able to do most of these projects, Cornaby said.
"I see the kids take a sense of pride in what they're doing," he said. "It makes them feel good to sit back and look at what they've accomplished and to see others enjoying things they've built."
Cornaby said most of the juveniles he has worked with are thankful for the program in the end. Many of the youths have taken the skills they learned while working with him and have returned later to work for the Forest Service under a different program.
"If you can see one life turned around then it's great incentive for the program," he said.