January 25, 2012LANCASTER – Coos County has recently begun a new program to help turn first-time juvenile offenders away from crime. The Restorative Justice is a program of the Tri-County Community Action Program and is modeled after a similar program in Carroll County.
The program targets children between the ages of 8-12 years-old, who are in the trouble with the law, and usually are referred by the local police through some kind of a condition of a plea or a settlement. It's a 90-day program with an accountability plan, weekly check-ins, counseling, educational workshops and usually a written apology if there is a direct victim.
The Town of Lancaster has allowed the organization and its single Coos County staffer, Kimberly Hoyt, of Stark, to operate out of a small office in the basement of the town hall. Ironically, some years ago a similar program was housed in that spot run by Cid Southworth.
"It's good to see the program back in Lancaster," Hoyt, a 1998 graduate of Groveton High School. This is program is one of two that she administrators. The other is a part-time program to discourage teens from smoking.
Most children, Hoyt said, find the Restorative Justice program to be "a pretty good alternative" to ending up with a permanent record and the permanent ramifications – including college acceptance, financial aid and employment. Increasingly, the Judicial System is making fewer distinctions between child and adult perpetrators.
There is a direct linking between alcohol and drugs in bad behavior. Hoyt estimates that 80 percent of the program's youth offenders' crimes were related to substance abuse. She bemoans the region's dependence and attitude toward drinking. "It has been a rite of passage," she said. But mostly, Hoyt said, "Juveniles don't feel connected."
There is an "overarching hopelessness," she added, "Coos County has a lot of poverty; not a lot for kids to do, not much opportunity." Still, the solution is simple – so simple she insists. Youths need parents and other adults in their lives – guiding them, modeling appropriate behavior, setting boundaries and listening. Unfortunately, Hoyt said, there is "No real good mechanism to keep kids' parents accountable."
Hoyt loves her job and feels like she's making a difference. "Any adult in a kid's life can be a catalyst for life," she said, "I want to be that catalyst."