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City Preserves Services for Juveniles

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Ross managed to obtain $250,000 in federal grants, but it wasn't enough. The only remaining wallet belonged to the city, which was facing severe budget cuts of its own. Ross decided to ask City Manager Calvin Jamison for money to preserve services such as counseling for young offenders and their families, extended day care and after-school tutoring, and placement in community-service programs in lieu of detention.

But by law she knew all the city had to pay for was the 60-bed juvenile detention center. "If the state is backing away from this partnership," Ross explained to Jamison, "you legally don't have to do this."

Jamison didn't hesitate, Ross says: "He said to me, 'What is the cost to us if we don't do this?'"

Every time a young person ends up in court or in juvenile detention, it costs the city money, Ross says. The programs her department provides are designed to divert young offenders from the judicial system and prevent them from getting into more serious crimes. Her department deals with 270 children on an average day, as well as their siblings, parents and teachers.

Jamison was convinced. Even though it's really the state's responsibility to provide funding, he says, he thought it was important for the city to step in. "You must invest in our young folks early," he says, "or you're going to pay on the back end."

So Jamison approved $1.1 million for the Department of Juvenile Justice, in addition to the $2.4 million the city had originally planned to provide. A few programs were altered and 14 positions were cut or condensed, but "we dodged a bullet," Ross says.

But not everyone did. Other localities are hurting, Ross says. For example, Brad Hammer, deputy administrator in charge of human services for Chesterfield County, says $1 million in state cuts forced him to lay off seven people and eliminate 40 percent of juvenile justice programs. "Ten years of progress in one year, they're erasing," he says of the legislators' cuts, which amounted to $34.4 million statewide.

Next year, things may change, Hammer says. A coalition of his counterparts across Virginia met after the cuts were announced and they plan to lobby the legislature to get juvenile services funds reinstated statewide.

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