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Like it or not, juveniles help pay the price for their crimes

POSTED: January 31, 2009 12:09 a.m.

When Troy Millikan’s mailbox got busted up with a two-by-four last year, the Gainesville lawyer figured they’d never catch the kids who did it.

It was the fourth time vandals had struck Millikan’s Highland Road neighborhood in North Hall and had him out shopping for a new mailbox, again.

But after four teenagers were arrested and brought before a judge on criminal damage charges in Hall County Juvenile Court, Millikan started getting checks in his new mailbox to pay for the old one.

“Each of them sent a check for their amount,” Millikan said. “It’s a great form of punishment, because hopefully these kids had to earn this money by working, and it wasn’t just paid by their parents.”

Last year nearly $30,000 was paid in restitution from Hall County’s juvenile offenders to their victims, and nearly $300,000 has been paid by Hall juveniles since 1993. Almost all took on jobs to pay off their debt to society, from working at fast-food joints and car washes to cleaning pet cages and picking up trash.

Hall County Juvenile Court Judges Cliff Jolliff and Mary Carden do their best to make sure that parents aren’t the ones paying the court-ordered restitution.

“We make it real clear that it’s the child’s responsibility,” Jolliff said. “They do the work — it’s for their rehabilitation — that’s the whole idea.”

Hall County’s juvenile court handles between 900 and 1,000 delinquency cases in a year. Jolliff estimates that less than half require restitution.

Offenders under age 16 who have trouble finding paying jobs have another option through juvenile court. The court uses federal grant money distributed through the state juvenile court judge’s council to pay children for community service jobs. They make minimum wage working for the Hall County Humane Society, Keep Hall Beautiful and Good News at Noon. Probation fees collected in juvenile court also go toward paying for the work.

“I think it’s great,” said Ari Mathe, an attorney with the Northeastern Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office who often represents juvenile court defendants ordered to pay restitution. “It goes a long way toward teaching responsibility all kids need to learn, and it goes a long way toward making the victims whole, which is the goal.”

Jolliff said besides mailboxes, kid have been ordered to pay for broken windows, graffiti, stolen items that were never recovered and in some cases, dental work that resulted from fights. A few restitution amounts have reached five digits.

While most restitution is paid within two years, the court can enforce its orders until an offender is 21, then transfer the case to superior court if it isn’t paid off.

Mathe believes juvenile court likely has a higher restitution collection rate than superior court, which often requires larger amounts but leaves how it will be earned up to the offender.

Mathe credits Hall County’s juvenile probation officers with the better success rate in getting victims the money they’re owed.

“They really take the time to make sure the kids and the families see how to get it done,” Mathe said.

“With adults, it’s sort of assumed they’ll get it done on their own.”

Millikan believes the vandals who had to work to replace the mailboxes they smashed now have a new perspective on their transgressions.

“If you hit somebody in their pocketbook, it hurts,” Millikan said.



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