While COVID-19 has changed the daily routines of many children in the Wood River Valley, the Blaine County juvenile justice system hasn’t seen a significant spike—or drop—in offenses committed by young people during the pandemic, according to a report presented to the Blaine County commissioners on Tuesday.
The county’s Juvenile Probation Department did see “a bit of a lull” in new referrals when COVID-19 first hit the Wood River Valley, Chief Probation Officer Teresa Espedal told the commissioners. But since then, the numbers have largely remained in line with previous years.
“It seems like we’re seeing some typical behavior,” Espedal said. “As for how we deal with it, we’re modifying that.”
The department has made an effort to hold counseling sessions and other programming in person “whenever possible,” Espedal said, rather than via video conferencing.
“That human contact’s really important,” she said.
Blaine County, along with other counties across Idaho, has ramped up efforts in recent years to steer more young people away from the criminal justice system, both before and after they’ve committed crimes. That effort includes county diversion programs, an alternative to formal court action that puts a focus on personal accountability and working with schools to identify and help kids who may be at risk before their behavior escalates into criminal activity.
“Over the past three to five years, we’re serving families earlier and better,” Espedal said.
Most of the new cases in the diversion program this year have been drug- and alcohol-related, according to Espedal—a not-unexpected distribution.
Between 2017 and 2019, the number of youths on probation in Blaine County went down from 29 to five, while the number going through the diversion program went up from 12 to 18, according to a previous report presented in March.