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Teen probation program gives high-dollar incentives

July 28, 2019

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Some teens on probation in Sedgwick County receive high-priced items such as iPads, Xboxes and Amazon gift cards as rewards in an after-school program meant to keep them from reoffending.

The Wichita Eagle reports that the incentives, funded with public dollars, are not in line with state recommendations that call for incentives of limited financial value.

The incentives are part of a system that encourages youth to make positive choices. County and state officials say their cost is small compared to the cost of locking up young lawbreakers. It’s part of a national trend toward emphasizing rewards for good behavior over punishment for bad. Kansas changed its juvenile justice approach in 2016 to focus on keeping kids out of detention when possible.

“It is not about punishment, it is about accountability. But if you take an exclusive punishment approach to young offenders, all you will be doing is assuring you create adult offenders,” said Rep. Russ Jennings, the Republican chairman of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee.

The incentives range from small items and $5 or $10 gift cards for small accomplishments to video game consoles and MacBooks valued at $1,200. A similar program in Johnson County gives rewards valued at no more than $25.

“One day in our juvenile detention facility costs $223.60 — so I would say this is a better way to invest in youth outcomes,” Glenda Martens, Sedgwick County Department of Corrections director, said in a statement.

The teens spend most of their time in in the program in sessions focused on changing behavior or combating substance abuse. This month, 52 youth are in the Sedgwick County program. Their offenses range from possession of marijuana to theft and battery. They earn incentives through attendance, participation, behavior and completion of the program and their probation, Martens said.

The Kansas Department of Corrections provides a grid to county agencies showing possible incentives. For the biggest accomplishments, like completing the center’s program or finishing probation, recommended rewards include a special outing, a gift card or extended curfew.

KDOC spokeswoman Cheryl Cadue said the state recommends incentives that don’t have a large cost.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com

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