BUTTE - The juvenile court system in Butte is seeing more teens facing serious offenses and that’s put a strain on its budget, especially when it comes to detaining youthful offenders.
“There are some cases, very few cases, but serious cases, where we need to have a child detained to maintain safety in the community,” said Butte Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Kelly Speer.
Butte’s Youth Court is seeking an additional $286,000 for its budget that has already spent $337,000 this fiscal year. Since a youth detention facility in nearby Galen closed a few years ago, underage offenders who have to be detained have to be taken to a facility in Great Falls.
It costs about $230 a day to detain a youth in juvenile detention.
“That creates another logistic problem: How do we get that person here? How do we maintain our staffing patterns on the street when we have to send two offers to transport to Great Falls?” said Butte Sheriff Ed Lester.
Officials believe the stress of the pandemic contributes to increased behavioral problems with youth.
“More mental health issues than we’ve seen in the past, I think, some kids got behind, they get frustrated, they’re acting out in school, acting out in the home, parents are struggling,” said Speer.
The Youth Court currently has 135 juvenile offenders in the system, with about 10 percent of those cases involving serious offenses. There are two juveniles serving long-term detention in Great Falls.
The goal of the court is to find alternatives to detention when dealing with juveniles.
“Our job is to figure out how we get them to make better choices and get the service that they need,” said Speer.
Dealing with juvenile offenders will continue to be a complicated issue for the court and law enforcement.
“I don’t see there being a youth detention center being built in this area in the near future at all, I don’t see happening in the next several years, so this is just something we’re going to have to work our way through,” said Lester.