EDITORIAL: A good idea that needs tweaking

Albany County’s new Project Growth is a proactive approach to helping juvenile offenders pay off their debts to society, but we feel it needs some tweaking, and the county may well wind up agreeing.

The idea behind the project itself is good. Giving juveniles who vandalize property the option to pay restitution by working at the Capital City Rescue Mission and finding entry-level jobs at area businesses is a much better way than forcing the parents of these teens – who are often from low-income families – to pay for their transgressions. And with it being a first-of-its kind program in New York, it could become a model for similar projects.

Where we feel the idea needs some tweaking is the percentage of each paycheck the juvenile offenders keep for themselves. The project allows the offenders to retain 80 percent of their paychecks, with the remaining 20 percent going to the victims of their crimes. That breakdown seems a little too much in the offender’s favor, especially when the reason for the project is to teach young people there is a price to pay for committing crimes.

Think of it this way. A teen does $400 worth of damage to someone’s property and enters Project Growth. If that teen gets an entry-level job where he or she earns $135 per week, he or she keeps $109 before taxes and the victim receives $26. At that rate, it would take 16 weeks for the teen to pay off the debt, and at the end they would pocket more than four times than the cost of the damage before taxes are factored in.

Granted, these teens would be giving back to society by working at the mission, and they would learn valuable job skills through their part-time work. And we wouldn’t begrudge them the opportunity to earn money for their families, especially if it helps them with their monthly bills. It might even lead them to greater opportunities down the road.

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