Juvenile offender program expands

An Albany County program designed to help juvenile offenders is expanding from the city of Albany to its suburbs.

Since 2006, the Albany County Probation Department has operated the Juvenile Community Accountability Board in Albany. Through the program, three or four volunteers meet with juvenile offenders and their parents to try and keep them from getting into more trouble with the law. State regulations allow for the juvenile to be involved with the program for up to four months.

“One of the things we try to do with kids coming through for the first or second time is work with them to prevent them from going further into the system,” said Lisa Mahar, a senior probation officer for the county who also coordinates the program for youth.

When an offender under the age of 16 is charged, the Probation Department receives the information on their case. Mahar said that’s when they determine if a child is right for the JCAB program.

“They discuss what happened that caused them to be charged, who they think they affected, and then they come up with a plan,” said Mahar.

Going through the JCAB program is usually an alternative to other punishment like incarceration, and is oftentimes a youth’s last opportunity to reverse his or her course before entering the justice system.

Outside of Albany, the program has been a success so far in Watervliet. Mahar tells the story of a teen who committed to community service hours in that city and was offered a job at the same site following the end of the service. The boy was also connected to a boxing program in Cohoes and is training for an amateur fight in February.

The next step for Mahar is to get the program going in Bethlehem and Guilderland.

“There is a need there,” said Mahar. “The numbers aren’t as high as in Albany, but we wanted the other areas to have the advantage of being able to utilize this program.”

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