Marty Thresher says she's "victim-oriented," which is good because she's about to become one.
Thresher runs TIME, a 10-month-old Anne Arundel County program that finds jobs for juvenile offenders so they can repay money to victims of their offenses. TIME stands for "This Investment Makes Us Even," and it has had some successes.
But TIME is running out. On Friday, the county government, citing budget difficulties and concerns over cost-effectiveness, fired three of Thresher's four staffers; the fourth is on loan from another department and her recall is expected. Officials see no chance the inventive program will continue after Thresher's contract to run it expires June 30.
Thresher, 27, says TIME offers an alternative to incarceration of delinquent youths and eases the plight of their victims.
With incarceration, she said, "The victim suffers the trauma of the intrusion, the financial loss with no restitution and then pays through taxes for the offender to be fed, housed and clothed at a rate of $25,000 a year."
In TIME, which Thresher patterned after a Quincy, Mass., restitution program she helped establish and run, local businesses are persuaded to give delinquent youths temporary jobs, and then part of their pay is sent to victims to repay their losses.
An example Thresher regards as a TIME triumph:
In 1979, a 16-year-old burglarized the Annapolis home of Phillip Garrett. The youth was convicted, given probation and ordered to pay $3,350 in restitution to Garrett, his insurance company and another victim from a separate burglary.
The youth worked for a while, paying off $50 a month until he lost his job. When the checks stopped coming, Garrett notified the judge in the case and was told there was nothing to do but hope the youth found work again.
That didn't happen until last spring, when the youth was referred to TIME. Within a month, Thresher had talked a local hotel into giving the youth, by then 19, a temporary job as handyman at the minimum wage.
He has now been at the hotel eight months, paying $40 a week in restitution to his victims and keeping the rest. He's a good employe, the hotel manager said, and will be offered a full-time job when restitution is completed in about five months.
The young man said he has no problem turning over a big chunk of his pay. "It's something I have to do," he said. "I couldn't think of an easier way. If they didn't take it out of my check, I'd probably mess around with it . . . . "
And Garrett, 70, is comforted. "I think it's wonderful that the kids are paying it back," he said. "I think it will teach them something, let 'em work it out. Maybe this will help him get along with his life."
Thresher acknowledged that not all her efforts have turned out so well, but said that in 114 cases handled in its first 10 months, TIME has funneled $27,000 to victims, completed restitution in 27 cases and has about 40 youngsters in jobs now. She maintains it's the most successful juvenile-crime restitution program in the country.
But County Executive O. James Lighthizer is concerned about the program's annual cost, which Thresher says is $70,000 and he says is $97,000.
"It worked fairly well, we feel," said Lighthizer's top aide, Bob Agee, "but it was a pilot project and not intended to be permanent." He said existing agencies would be asked to take over TIME's functions.
Lighthizer had suggested the state take over TIME, with a contribution from the county, but an aide to Gov. Harry Hughes said the state has no extra money in its $50.3 million Juvenile Services Administration budget. Assistant State's Attorney David Plymyer is critical of that state decision, saying that restitution programs are the state's responsibility under the law.
Whatever the case, Thresher says it all means the system will revert to the old ways--inadequate enforcement and arbitrary payment of restitution. "By discarding it," she said, "we'll lose sight of the victim again."