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Jury Fees May Fund Drug Program

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

If county probation officials have their way, Ventura County may become the first in the state to fund a drug-treatment program using jury fees.

Under a plan tentatively approved Tuesday by the County Board of Supervisors, Municipal and Superior Court jurors would be asked to donate their $5-a-day fees to help fund a two-year pilot program for 168 youngsters on probation or in juvenile detention facilities.

“It’s a way to support the second year,” said Barbara Gaines, a supervising deputy probation officer, who co-authored the proposal.

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Gaines said Dallas County, Tex., is the only jurisdiction she has heard of that uses juror fees to fund various juvenile programs, such as a center for runaways. About 70% of jurors there contribute, said F. W. Forden, director of the Ventura County Corrections Services Agency.

Ventura County probation officials said they need to win the support of those employers who collect the $5-a-day fees from their workers. They also plan a survey of local jurors to determine whether enough would donate their stipends to make the program work.

Although the state will subsidize the first year of the program, scheduled to begin after March 1, it will contribute nothing the second year. If half of all jurors donate their fees, more than $191,000 would be raised, making up about 43% of the $448,130 needed for the program’s second year, the proposal said.

The rest may come from Medicaid, private grants and federal funds.

The proposed program is essential, Gaines said, because there are not enough intensive drug-treatment programs in Ventura County for poor youngsters who have serious alcohol and other drug abuse problems.

“It’s not just treatment but identifying kids at the highest level of risk,” Gaines said.

Youngsters on probation, including those in the Colston Youth Center and the Juvenile Restitution Program, would be eligible for the proposed drug treatment, Gaines said. The Colston Youth Center is a 45-bed mental-health facility in Ventura for youngsters ages 12 to 17. The Juvenile Restitution Program forces 16- and 17-year-old offenders to contribute 80% of their wages to their victims.

The proposed program would offer various methods of treatment, including individual, family and peer counseling, and twice-weekly alcohol and drug testing. Of the 168 youngsters, nearly 50 would be eligible for intensive in-home treatment, in which a therapist would provide counseling at home each day.

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Some jurors said this week that they would be reluctant to donate their $5 fee because they said such programs are useless.

“They all give you the runaround,” said Marjorie Bernstein of Santa Paula, whose 40-year-old son died in November from a heroin overdose despite attending several drug abuse programs.

“When he got in a program, they would lighten up on him,” said Bernstein, who was on her lunch break at the County Courthouse.

But others hoped that their $5 contributions could make a difference.

“That’s fine with me if it helps solve the problems of young people,” said John Villegas, a Simi Valley juror.

The county Corrections Services Agency would oversee the proposed program along with the Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, the Mental Health Department and the superintendent of schools.

To qualify for state funding, the Corrections Services Agency must submit an application--approved by the County Board of Supervisors--by Dec. 20.

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If the contribution plan is approved, it would start Feb. 1, 1992, Gaines said.

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