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NEIGHBORS RALLY BEHIND YOUTH COURT – COMMUNITY-BASED PROGRAM THREATENED BY BUDGET PROBLEMS

Rocky Mountain News (CO) – Friday, July 1, 2005
Author/Byline: Clayton Woullard , Rocky Mountain News
Edition: Final
Section: News
Page: 9A
Residents of seven Denver neighborhoods came together Thursday night at a town hall meeting to tackle the potential loss of the state’s only community court.

They met at Wyatt-Edison Charter School to discuss the value of the Central Denver Community Court and how to save it from budget cuts.

“We can’t let this happen,” said Jeremy Simons, who helped form the juvenile court two years ago. “This should be a model for the city and not getting the ax.”

The court, at 3280 Downing St. in the Cole neighborhood, has handled more than 1,000 juvenile violations since it began on Sept. 5, 2003. Because of citywide budget concerns, the court may not have enough money to stay afloat.

The court is funded primarily by the Denver County Court, with additional money coming from organizations.

Denver Community Court planner Loree Greco said the court is looking for $45,000 to make it through until year’s end, and hopes to tap into $2.5 million allocated through a bond initiative passed earlier this year that will go into effect in January.

“By systems working together, we’re becoming more coordinated in helping these kids, and it makes sense,” Greco said.

Resident Dianna Mayes spoke at the meeting about how the court has helped her and her 17-year-old son.

“They’re not there to just tell your children what to do,” Mayes said. “They’re there to listen.”

She praised the court for its central location in the community and said her son felt it was a place where he could get help from others in the community and not feel judged.

Debra Johnson, the court’s community service coordinator and co-founder, said the aim of the court is to keep youth from committing more serious crimes as they get older.

“If we can get them now when their minds are small and their offenses are small, we’ll never have to see them in the paper,” Johnson said.

She said one method, called restorative justice, has youths performing community service in the area where they committed a crime. This shows them how their actions have an impact on their community.

Some residents suggested holding fundraisers and approaching other organizations for funding, as well as urging judges within the system to petition on the court’s behalf.

But Judge Andrew Armatas, Denver County Court’s presiding judge, reminded residents at the meeting that he doesn’t hold the city’s purse strings.

“We’re all passionate about this court,” Armatas said, “but let’s not kid ourselves. The Denver County Court is a budget item.”

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