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Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Center aims to stop
teen crime

By Suzanne Tswei

The Honolulu Police Department hopes to stop teenagers from getting pulled into a life of crime with a new youth assessment center -- the first of its kind in Hawaii.

"The whole idea is intervention so the juvenile offenders don't end up with the inappropriate treatment and end up going through the revolving door and getting arrested over and over again," Capt. Bart Huber said.

The center, modeled after successful mainland programs, is expected to open in November in the Business Action Center on Nimitz Highway. The center will be operated by a private agency, which has not been determined, Huber said.

Only juveniles who are suspected of committing status or misdemeanor offenses, such as curfew violations or shoplifting, will go through the center, he said. Repeat and serious offenders will be sent to Family Court.

"The center will be a place where juveniles are routed through after arrests or referrals," he said. "They will be assessed as to what kind of available program, whether it be counseling or something else, is appropriate depending on their situation."

Police officers may not have "the expertise to know what makes a person tick, when it comes to dealing with juveniles," he said. Officers in the juvenile division receive training but HPD's five-year rotation policy routinely transfers experienced officers to other divisions, he said.

Counselors, trained to assess the needs of juveniles, will decide on the proper actions depending on an offender's history and problems, Huber said. Counselors also will provide follow-up counseling to teens and their parents.

The center will help free an overloaded court system and enable more officers to engage in other juvenile delinquency prevention programs, Huber said.

The department has budgeted $700,000 out of a $1 million federal grant for the yearly operation of the center, Huber said. The grant is part of a $1.7 million two-year grant awarded to the state to address juvenile delinquency.

The $1.7 million grant is administered through the state Office of Youth Services. The money is distributed to the counties for programs that make juveniles more accountable for their wrongdoing, said Suzanne Toguchi, the office's children and youth specialist.

The other counties' programs will include:

Bullet Maui: About $129,000 for a program that teaches juvenile offenders the consequences of their behavior by imposing immediate sanction when appropriate.

Bullet Hawaii: About $180,000 for a feasibility study of a drug court program to better address juvenile drug abuse.

Bullet Kauai: About $57,000 for its two-year-old teen court program that uses juveniles in the roles of jurors and attorneys to determine the punishment.

The grants are supported through the Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grant. Bert Matsuoka, Youth Services executive director, said he was not certain of a connection between Hawaii's declining juvenile crime rate and the grants. But, he said, the funds will help sustain the trend by supporting programs that reduce the likelihood of continued delinquency.

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