Loft Legacy Teen Center logo

The Loft Teen Center is part of the county's effort to reach and help youth close to home, an alternative to incarceration.

APACHE COUNTY — Apache County will put up $2,400 to attract some $10,000 in state grant money to provide counseling for families, many of them involved with the juvenile justice system.

The county hopes the grant will bolster services for families in the system, which has been hit by big changes and cuts in most rural counties.

In 2015 Apache County shut down its juvenile detention facilities and started contracting with neighboring Navajo County for detention services. That resulted in layoffs, but saved Apache County $800,000. The county had only a handful of juveniles whom judges had ordered locked up, making the cost of running its own detention facility prohibitive.

In 2018, both Navajo and Gila Counties shut down their juvenile detention facilities for the same reason. They began sending children and teens to detention facilities in the Valley along with Apache County kids sentenced to detention. Those counties also argued most children were better placed in alternative, community programs rather than jails and juvenile detention facilities.

However, the strained budgets of rural counties has made it difficult to provide a full range of alternative programs and counseling for kids and their families in trouble with the law. The transfer to the Valley for those teens ordered locked up has also complicated any efforts to provide family-based counseling.

The state grants for family counseling services are intended to help juveniles and their families make changes. Research shows a coordinated system of counseling, community programs and interventions can reduce recidivism rates much more effectively than detention-only for many juveniles. However, like the movement to deinstitutionalize people with mental illness, a lack of alternative programs can also create new problems when the system moves away from relying on secure facilities.

Apache County has about 20,000 kids under 17 years of age. Gila County has 11,000 and Navajo County has 30,000. So the state grant for family counseling totals $10,000 in Apache, $2,000 in Gila and $13,000 in Navajo County.

Also last week, the Apache County Board of Supervisors approved the conversion of three vacant juvenile detention positions to probation officer positions.

The board then approved a $13,000 raise for Chief Probation Officer Paul Hancock, who has completed his master’s degree and taken on a lead role in the Apache County Youth Council and serves as the director of the Teen Legacy Centers. Hancock will now make about $76,000 annually.

His counterpart in Navajo County makes $87,000 and in Gila County makes $105,000, according to materials in the agenda packet.

The board also approved position upgrades in the superior court, which will boost salaries by a total of about $5,000.

Peter Aleshire covers county government for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

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