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A theme cropped up in hearing on change in juvenile facilities

Letter to the Editor

 


On May 10, a public meeting was held in Okanogan involving a possible change on where our troubled juveniles would be housed over a period of time. The three Okanogan County commissioners were there, also three commissioners from other counties who gave a presentation on their experiences with Martin Hall, a private, not-for-profit group who handles juvenile offenders from nine counties.

A standing-room-only group of people from all over Okanogan County was there to listen as the Martin Hall program was explained to us by Lincoln County Commissioner Scott Hutsell. It was made very clear at the beginning of the meeting that the audience was free to comment at the proper time if they had signed for it, but not to ask questions. The crowd listened very carefully and quietly until we reached the comment period.

As I listened to the comments, one theme kept cropping up: The people commented over and over that the distances involved in keeping “our kids” so far from home was the last thing our young people needed. At a time like that, they needed all the support that it was possible to give them. We have our own Okanogan facilities that provide the same services right in Okanogan, a site much more accessible to our county residents. It was pointed out that finding transportation for our families would be very difficult and in the winter might involve a stay­over due to road conditions, making it even more expensive.

Another point brought up was the loss of jobs in our county if our present facility were shut down. Jobs are not all that plentiful in our county that we can afford to lose not only the person employed, but their families, and the money that gets spent right here at home.

As a former teacher at Nespelem, I can say from experience that any support we can give “our kids” is vital to prevent them from spiraling further down the chain that too often begins with a first offense, a sentiment that was echoed over and over. There was a field of statistics offered on costs and savings, but they did not seem to impress the audience. Mayor Wilder of Coulee Dam was one of the commentators who pointed out that any “freebies” in the Martin Hall program were being paid by somebody, some way, and we should be skeptical of them.

There will be another public meeting on June 14 in Okanogan in which our own county program and facilities will be presented to the public and the Okanogan County commissioners. I urge you that if you possibly can attend, to go and make up your own mind on the best place for our kids. The commissioners have the final say on the decision, but we need to make our voices heard. That is how a democracy should work, but it takes effort on our part to live up to our responsibilities.

I HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE, at the County Commissioners Office.

Carol Netzel

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