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Legislative panel: Renew juvenile corrections agency

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Legislative panel: Renew juvenile corrections agency

Without the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, kids who get in trouble would lose help they can't get from probation departments in their home counties, the agency's director told lawmakers Monday.

"When those haven't worked out, we become that last stop for many to keep them from going on into the adult criminal justice system," Michael Branham said.

Branham addressed members of the House judiciary and Senate public safety and human services committees, who met as an oversight panel. In the end, the committee voted 6-1 to recommend extending the department's life by five years.

The department, which saw its budget shrink from $81 million to $58 million in the past fiscal year, has been on the chopping block as leaders have considered ways to close the state's budget deficit. If the Legislature doesn't renew the agency, it will close on July 1, according to Laura Dillingham, a spokeswoman for the department.

Currently 960 kids are under the agency's care, with 384 held in secure facilities in Phoenix and Tucson, Branham said. The average cost for those in the facilities is roughly $288 a day, he said.

Branham said the department has tried to cut costs by putting kids on probation when possible and focusing on education to help reduce the number of repeat offenders.

Sen. David Braswell, R-Phoenix, who cast the dissenting vote, said that while his heart goes out to those in the program he's concerned about the money involved.

"I'm not sure that we are helping these kids as cost effectively as we could," Braswell said.

He said only 8.3 percent of the department's budget is actually marked for education, and the rest is spent on incarcerating juvenile parole violators.

Braswell said that the state has its priorities mixed up when every year it will spend, on average, $82,000 per child in correction facilities but only $5,600 per child in public schools.

"I'm not sure as a state we're getting our money's worth for the majority of the investment versus the number of kids that are going through the program," Braswell said.

Beth Rosenberg, director of child welfare and juvenile justice policy for Children's Action Alliance, said reform of the whole system is needed, but the Legislature needs to keep the department and provide an adequate budget.

"No matter what the reform, we still need some secure beds for some juvenile offenders," Rosenberg said.

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