Morgan System of Services results impressive


Results and cost drew two high-profile public officials to the Morgan County System of Services last week. The program allows juveniles who get into trouble with the law to bypass the Department of Youth Servicesí pipeline that is a training ground for future criminals.

Gov. Bob Riley and Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb praised the local program as effective and economical. Director Sara Bruce-Hall hopes the state uses the program as a model.

The governor and chief justice are longtime advocates of changing the stateís penal system. The governor, as chief executive, canít find enough funding to lock up all of the people sent to the Department of Corrections.

Having spent most of her adult life on the bench, Chief Justice Cobb knows that locking up inmates, especially young ones, leads them into more trouble.

SOS last year served 385 juveniles with above-average results. Most of those were stay-at-home juveniles. The court ordered them to get help from SOS. Each cost the state an average of $1,713. In DYSí custody, their bill would have escalated to $22,265.

Of the number served, 20 percent faced more trouble while in the program and 17 percent committed another offense within 12 months of their release. Thatís 37 percent, yet a 2005 report showed that more than 70 percent of the youngsters sent to the DYS had legal problems when they got out.

The public views alternative sentencing as the state being weak on crime. That false perception trickles down to legislators who end up playing it safe and siding with hard-liners when SOS-type programs are cheaper and more effective.

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