Juvenile offenders may get lost in shuffle

February 27, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
In Contra Costa County the District Attorney's office is slashing jobs and fewer prosecutors, means fewer criminal cases go to court. They're trying to figure out the impact this will have, but it could mean a huge break for juvenile offenders.

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Prosecutors say many of today's young lawbreakers are actually very serious criminals.

"There are kids in school who are arrested daily with knives on their persons, weapons, and guns," says Dan Cabral, head of the juvenile division.

Yet in Contra Costa County, if the district attorney's proposed budget cuts go through, four of the five lawyers who handle juvenile cases will be laid off. The juvenile division handled nearly 1,700 cases last year.

"The juvenile prosecution would almost cease to exist if this budget is accepted and passed as their proposing it," says Cabral.

The county has asked the D.A. to cut $4 million from his budget. To do that he says he will have to lay off a total of 33 of 91 lawyers.

"It would basically mean we would give up the business of the prosecution of misdemeanors," says District Attorney Robert Kochly.

That includes driving under the influence, petty theft and some drug crimes.

"I think it means total decimation of the criminal justice system here in Contra Costa County," says Kochly.

Yet as he reached out to supervisors, he heard little in the way of solutions.

"I don't have the answer today. If anyone does have that answer, I'd sure like to hear it," says Federal Glover, a Contra Costa County supervisor.

Glover and other supervisors say the county is in an impossible situation of having to find $56 million to cut.

"We will try to minimize those impacts, but there are going to be some severe impacts to not only this department, but other departments," says Glover.

They say they will try, but no one seems to know where the money would come from.

So on Tuesday county officials will debate what it will cost to prosecute criminals and what it will cost if they don't.

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