Darryl, 17, was arrested for burglary and assigned to a counseling program in Prince George's County by his probation officer. As part of his stint in the Community Restitution Project for Juvenile Offenders, the Capitol Heights youth completed 40 hours of community service last week, doing gardening chores for senior citizens.
The restitution project, intended as an alternative to sending juvenile offenders to jail, is the only one of its kind in the state. Last year, it received an award from the National Association of Counties as a new and innovative program. It is one of four delinquency prevention projects, out of 85 established nationwide in 1978 by the Justice Department, that is being considered for designation by the department as a model program.
"It's probably been one of the finest, most effective programs that we in Prince George's County have been able to bring to bear on juveniles in the community," said Circuit Court Judge Vincent Femia.
But the project, one of the few ways teen-agers such as Darryl can be scared straight, faces an uncertain future when its federal grant runs out Oct. 31. The debate over whether county funds will be used to continue it has touched off another dispute between the County Council and Executived Lawrence J. Hogan.
The restitution program has served 829 teenagers (mostly males) since its inception; the recidivism rate so far is only 10.6 percent. This compares favorably with nationwide recidivism of about 50 percent among youths assigned to probation or detertion centers, according to Justice Department figures.
Counselors in the Prince George's program help delinquent youths find jobs in local businesses and in county agencies, and then oversee the repayment of crime victims out of the teen-agers' earnings. In other instances, the case workers ensure that youths complete community service projects for which they are not paid. In some cases, work is assigned in the neighborhoods where they committed crimes.
Moreover, to help the youths realize the serious consequences of crime the counselors also take some of them to adult court, where they see the differences between sentences given juveniles and those given adults. The teen-agers also visit the county detention center so they can see the loss of privileges and the squalor of prison life.
Darryl, who as a juvenile offender cannot be fully identified, said the counseling program has changed his attitude about crime. "I think without it, a lot more people would be in trouble. As far as . . . going and seeing what it's like before they go out and get into serious crimes, that would put fear in anybody. It really taught me a lesson," he said.
The County Council recently approved a fiscal 1982 budget amendment, submitted by Hogan, in the belief that it was appropriating $70,000 to extend the life of the restitution program, according to council member Floyd Wilson. But the funds are being diverted to other uses by the Hogan administration, meaning, said Council Chairman Paris Glendening, "that a small program that was working will be gone."
The source of the controversy is a May 12 memo to the council describing the amendment. In it Hogan said he was allocating $70,000 for use by the department of corrections "to provide for the continuation of essential functions previously funded by CETA as well as some additional resources in classification and counseling."
That statement was interpreted by the council as meaning the $70,000 would go toward continuing the youth counseling program. But a county budget official said the disputed memo guaranteed only that $70,000 would be allocated to the corrections department, not to any specific program.
Arnett Gaston, Prince George's director of adult corrections, noted the Hoganmemo "did not refer to a specific age group" for which the funds were to be used. Gaston added that the money would be spent to provide services similar to those of the restitution program to young adults over 18.
Gaston suggested that the state Juvenile Services Administration "may pick up the program" when its grant expires at the end of the federal fiscal year. James Deedes, Greenbelt-based regional supervisor of the state Juvenile Services Administration, said, however, "There's no way I can include it in my budget."
The original, two-year grant of slightly more than $1 million was stretched out to cover a third year. The current annual operating budget of $157,000 is 72 percent lower than the first-year budget.
If the county appropriates the $70,000 that is in dispute and indicates it is willing to take over operation of the restitution program in October, additional funds from the unused portion of the original federal grant could then be used.
"I hate to see it go," said Prince George's Circuit Court Judge Sylvania Woods of the restitution program. "It gives us an alternative to incarceration. I think it's valuable because it gives a child a job. I also think its valuable because it repays the victim through the efforts of the child."
The program yearly serves approximately 400 youths, ages 14 through 17 -- one-third more than originally planned.Nearly half are first-time offenders and 85 percent of all the teen-agers have been convicted of felonies including larceny, car theft, vandalism, assault and burglary. Misdemeanors -- minor property damage and shoplifting -- account for the other 15 percent.
Youths found guilty of crimes ar referred to the restitution program by the circuit court or by probation officers. If a child is convicted of stealing a television set, for example, a judge sets the amount the victim is to be reimbursed and assigns the young thief to counseling or probation, or both, instead of jail.
The eight-member staff of the counseling program so far has supervised the restitution of $200,000 out of $300,000 ordered repaid in monetary damages or losses by youths aged 16 and 17, who must use 50 to 90 percent of their paychecks for this purpose. Youths 14 and 15 are placed in jobs in county agencies, and 90 percent of their pay is expropriated. p
"The only thing I didn't like about it," said 15-year-old Bennie of Laurel, who burned down a house when he was 14, "was that I had to give all my money to the court."
The staff also has ensured that Prince George's youths so far have performed 13,000 of the 22,000 hours ordered worked in community service projects, such as painting murals on dilapidated buildings and doing yard work for senior citizens.
"We try to teach kids that you can be a positive force [in the community]," said John Wrightson, the program director.