Time Dollar Youth Court reopened this Saturday after having run out of money and closing down on April 17. Surprised to learn that Mayor Adrian Fenty‘s fiscal 2008 budget left out funding for the program, administrators feared Time Dollar was done for good.
“We had been promised money by the Williams administration,” said UDC law professor and Youth Court founder Edgar Cahn. “They told us they were going to try to have us written in the mayor’s budget.”
Fenty budget wonks didn’t get that memo but recently worked to secure $200,000 from the police budget to get Youth Court through September. The D.C. Council is working to give the program an additional $250,000 for the 2008 fiscal year—-though nothing has been put in writing yet.
“I think there is a firm commitment,” Cahn says. But even with the deal sealed, the sum would only cover costs for a half-year. “I’m not sure if they thought that was all we needed.”
Since it began in 1996, Youth Court has received money from a variety of sources. As the number of referrals has increased (over 850 last year), Cahn has wanted the city to pick up the full tab. But as money from the Department of Mental Health dwindled and the city left the program hanging this year, that appears unlikely to happen.
At Youth Court, kids who’ve committed nonviolent misdemeanor offenses are given a jury by their peers every Saturday at D.C. Superior Court. Sentences range from Time Dollar jury duty to community service to essay-writing. Juveniles referred to the program are about half as likely as other misdemeanor offenders to wind up on the wrong side of the law a second time. An Urban Institute study of youth courts nationwide found that each case diverted from the justice system saves taxpayers $9,200.
In its early days, Cahn says he took out mortgages on his home to support Youth Court. Now that the program has proved itself and saved the District thousands on prosecuting kids, he thinks it’s “inappropriate” for the city not to foot the bill.
“I should not be a source of cash flow for the District government,” he says.