[KHTS] – Santa Clarita wanted to give at-risk minors a second chance when it created a unique Community Court program in 2006, said Cynthia Llerenas, human services supervisor for the city of Santa Clarita.
The program, which runs as a partnership with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, has helped countless teens, based on positive feedback from parents and those who have gone through the system, according to Bob Siecke, coordinator for Santa Clarita Community Court.
“The Community Court program has impacted the youth of Santa Clarita in many ways,” Siecke said. “It offers the opportunity for youngsters that make a mistake – they commit a minor infraction of the law and basically, they’re good kids, they need an opportunity to prove that their offense was a one-time thing and that they’ve learned from it.”
The program offers first-time offenders with an applicable minor offense the chance to have their records kept clean providing the infraction follows a few basic criteria, Llerenas said.
It was modeled after Teen Court, which is a peer-led city program that handles more serious offenses and, as a result, involves a longer probationary period, more community services and several other requirements.
By and large, the first-time offenders at Community Court were traffic tickets last year, Llerenas said, with moving violations being 217 of the 301 cases the court handled.
Of the remaining criminal cases in 2013, 60 percent were curfew violations, according to statistics provided by Llerenas. An additional 35 percent were petty thefts.
For driving infractions, such as speeding, instead of paying about $500, the parents or offender pays a $250 fine, follows certain restrictions and, as a result, the offense is not released to the DMV and it does not affect the driver’s insurance.
“We haven’t had anyone fail (for a driving offense),” Siecke said, which would mean the offender would get stuck with a record.
The offense must be nonviolent in nature, it must have no gang affiliations and the perpetrator must have no prior record. The offender must also be between 12-17 years of age.
“They pass through two reviews actually,” said Siecke. “Dan Finn, a detective in COBRA, sends the cases that he thinks would be eligible and then I review and interview them to make sure they fall within our criteria.”
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station’s COBRA team was a program established by former Capt. Paul Becker, aimed at reducing gang-related crimes.
Criminal offenses usually involve community service and a probationary period, among other potential consequnces, Siecke said.
The program was developed by Llerenas at the behest of Santa Clarita City Councilman Frank Ferry, during one of his mayoral terms.
There’s no way to definitively gauge whether the program prevents future crimes, or stops the at-risk teens the program looks to serve from becoming criminals, Siecke said.
However, there are success stories the former Probation Department supervisor points to with pride.
“We had one mother, who, her son graduated and he wanted to go into the Navy, and he was turned down because he had a petty theft, and somehow his record didn’t show that he had been through our program and the charges were dismissed,” Siecke said. “And I had to write a letter, and once they found out he’d been through this program – he’s now in the Navy.”