Homer Probation Cases Fall To Kenai
The Alaska Division of Juvenile Justice decided not to fill an open position in Homer last year after it saw a drop in funding. All juvenile probation cases in Homer are now being handled by a probation office in Kenai.
Homer has had a hard time holding onto a probation officer over the past five years. Sean Owens, isn’t sure why.
“We’d have good staff and they would…they left,” said Owens. “We don’t have a lot of turnover in DJJ. It just so happened that I was unfortunate enough to have that happen in Homer a few times.”
Owens is the Juvenile Probation Office’s Chief Probation Officer for Southcentral Alaska. He says probation officers work with kids who end up on the wrong side of the law. Their end goal is to get them out of the juvenile system and keep them from graduating into the adult criminal justice system.
“We have the facilities that help actually treat kids who need residential services and then we have the probation staff; which are the ones that do the illegal action of kids, the prosecution and also the supervision of kids throughout the system,” said Owens.
Owens says most of the kids they work with are between 13 and 18 years old.
According to the Division of Juvenile Justice, seven kids from Homer are on probation and they make up 12% of the Kenai Peninsula’s cases.
Last year the Division of Juvenile Justice’s budget was cut between three and four percent and, Owens says, they had to think about letting people go. Because Homer’s probation office was already empty, and it’s been hard to keep it staffed, he decided to let Kenai handle the Homer cases permanently.
“We prefer to have a probation officer directly there, but with the budget cuts it was my decision that office could still be directly covered by the Kenai probation staff,” said Owens.
Owens says this is not a new thing. Every time Homer’s office was empty in the past, Kenai has taken over. He says it’s common practice in other rural areas across the state. It’s not a big problem, Owens insists, but he admits it isn’t ideal.
“If one of our probationaries has an issue at school [or] is having a school meeting that they’d like us to be at, and it’s a last minute situation, it’s obviously much more difficult to do that when the probation officer [is] in Kenai than if they were just up the road,” said Owens.
He says, when an officer lives in the area they also have a better chance to build relationships with the community.
There are six probation officers in the Kenai office. Owens says they still give all Homer cases to one officer.
“We really wanted to keep that knowledge base. The rest of the office is well aware of the issues in Homer and Homer itself, but we’re really trying to keep it with a single probation officer,” said Owens.
He says juvenile justice eliminated about nine other positions last year.