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JUVENILE JUSTICE MAY BOOT `POINTS’

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Sometimes the numbers are staggering. A teen could be referred to juvenile court dozens of times before spending any time locked up or on probation.

And it's not just punishment that was slow to be served to a troubled youth, but any kind of help.But changes may be coming in the juvenile justice system.

In a report to the Sentencing Commission, Third District Juvenile Judge Andrew Valdez wrote a report detailing proposed changes in the way court officials would sentence young offenders.

Before April of this year, teens accumulated points for each crime they committed. In most cases, a substantial number of points had to be acquired before a teen was placed into any kind of treatment program or probation.

Recently a new set of "presumptive standards" was approved by the juvenile subcommittee of the Sentencing Commission. Those standards would require court officials to look at the number of crimes or "criminal episodes" rather than the number of points a child has accumulated.

The new guidelines would require court officials to presume a child should go on probation if he has one felony episode or three misdemeanor episodes. An episode can include more than one crime committed in close proximity to another.

Further, the new guidelines would require court officials to presume a child should be committed to state custody - and at least require probation - for a child with two felony episodes or six misdemeanor episodes or multiple probation violations.

Secure confinement would be a sure thing for a teen with three felony episodes against people or five felony episodes or two felony episodes using a firearm or repeat offense against people after com-mu-ni-ty placement.

"Now what we're doing is actually counting crimes and counting victims," Valdez said. "It allows us to get some intervention to these kids earlier."

Valdez is one of the newer judges, but he says he's never liked the point system.

"I'm not one persuaded by the number of points a kid has," he said. The number of points were used by those in the juvenile system to determine when a child should go on probation, get help or be locked up.

"In order to get any kind of services a kid has to have a certain number of points," he said. "What would happen is these kids would be referred 20 or 30 times before anything was done."

The wayward teens need supervision and structure long before that, Valdez said.

"In essence it (the new standards) abolishes the point system," he said, "Which basically, I believe, was an effort to manage resources."

Valdez said the new system could create more work for a system many feel is already overburdened and underfunded.

"We're going to have to increase resources to purchase facilities," he said.

Bill Nelsen, director of Youth Correction's region II, which includes Salt Lake County, said he's not sure how the changes would affect Youth Corrections' resources but believes the changes are needed.

"The important thing is that there are some guidelines to operate on across the state," Nelsen said. "Perhaps that will provide some consistency (in juvenile sentencing)."

Before being implemented, the guidelines must still be approved by the Sentencing Commission and the Board of Juvenile Court Judges, Nelson said.