OLYMPIA, Wash. – We’re starting to see real world fallout from some of the state budget cuts made in last few years. One of the clearest examples in Washington is juvenile parole. It turns out that the chief suspect in a recent high profile bar shooting had committed a previous murder – but did not qualify for intensive parole supervision because of cutbacks. One study finds juveniles who don’t receive parole are far more likely to be re-arrested within nine months of their release.
Fifteen-year-old Chris – we won’t use his last name because he’s a juvenile offender – is on a short leash. He’s smoked pot and stayed out past his curfew. Now he’s sitting in a conference room with his dad and his parole counselor, Mel Fundanet, not saying much.
“Do you see how the decisions that you make and your attitude impacts your independence?” Fundanet asks.
“Ya,” Chris responds.
The soft-spoken teen in a flannel hoody did a stint in a state juvenile lock-up for burglary and theft. Since getting out a few months ago, he’s been sent back twice for parole violations. Now he’s about to be put on electronic home monitoring.
In a weird way Chris is one of the lucky ones. He qualified for parole. Because of budget cuts, most Washington youth who get out of a state institution are now no longer supervised. That would have been fine with Chris.
“Nobody wants to be on parole,” he says.
But his dad John is grateful for the team that’s helping his son make the transition back into society.
“Thank God for Mel,” John says. “I call him quite frequently and talk with him and it’s a blessing having these guys.”
What would have happened to Chris if he had come out of the institution with no services?
“He would already be back in with more charges,” John says. “I guarantee you.”
The statistics suggest he’s right. A recent study by the Washington Department of Social and Health Services found that youth who don’t get parole were nearly 50 percent more likely to be re-arrested in the nine months following release.
“I didn’t have any idea it would be that dramatic,” says John Clayton, head of Washington’s Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration. He says that stat is a key reason the agency will ask the legislature this year to restore $5 million in funding for juvenile parole in the next two year budget.
Before 2009, all youth coming out of state juvenile lock-ups were put on supervision. Then came budget cuts. Now only the highest-risk youth plus sex offenders and auto thieves qualify for parole. The rest, says Clayton, are pretty much left to their own devices. And the bad results are mounting.
“[For example,] Billy. Billy is a King County case, admitted for manslaughter, he was released, went back to the community, did not receive parole came back into the system for armed robbery.”
Billy is Billy Chambers, one of three youth convicted of robbing and beating to death a popular Seattle street musician known as Tuba Man in 2008. This past Christmas Eve morning one of Chambers co-defendants, Ja’mari Jones, is alleged to have pulled the trigger in a fatal bar shooting in Bellevue. Clayton says Jones too did not qualify for parole because of budget cuts.
“I feel for the safety of our communities,” Clayton says. “Any time you talk about re-arrests you’re talking about a new victim.”
State lawmakers aren’t defending the cuts to juvenile parole. Democratic State Representative Ruth Kagi believes the state has a responsibility to supervise these juvenile offenders in the community.
“We have made cuts that we knew were not good cuts to make because we did not have a choice, we had to.”
Kagi says she will make the case in the legislature this year that for every dollar spent on juvenile parole, the state of Washington will ultimately save more than $3 in other costs. But with another $1 billion shortfall looming she knows it will be a tough sell.
As for Chris, he violated his curfew once again and is back in lock up once again.
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