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Advocate will help victims of juvenile offenders

A new advocate will help victims of juvenile offenders navigate the court system and get restitution.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved adding the staff person to the Victims Assistance Program of the Jackson County District Attorney's Office.

The county won a $120,000 Oregon Department of Justice grant to be spread over two years to pay for the advocate. The District Attorney's Office also will contribute $30,000 over the two years to finance the position.

"It will be an improvement for the county and will help hold juvenile offenders accountable," said Diana Hamilton, director of the Victims Assistance Program.

The District Attorney's Office has crime victim advocates, but none focused specifically on victims of youth offenders, she said.

Under Oregon law, victims of crimes have the right to be in the courtroom during trials, to be heard during sentencing and to obtain restitution, Hamilton said.

For violent crimes such as assault and rape, the victim has a right to consult with the DA's office about negotiations such as plea agreements, she said.

Making sure victim rights are upheld is more complicated in youth offender cases because juveniles are given more confidentiality. Youth offenders also may go through the courts or through a less formal process involving a juvenile probation officer, Hamilton said.

The advocate for victims of youth crime must understand both processes, she said.

Youths can be ordered to pay restitution for the damage caused by their crimes. For example, if a youth takes a car without permission and crashes, he could be ordered to pay for repairs and damages to property, such as a fence or other car.

"We order full restitution against kids," Hamilton said. "If the victim can substantiate the damage, we'll order it. We've ordered thousands of dollars for damages. The ability to pay is not a factor."

Monetary judgments against youth offenders are in force for 10 years, she said.

If a youth committed a crime at age 15, for instance, he would be liable to pay the damages until age 25, she said.

Youths sometimes steal costly cellphones from each other. If the stolen cellphone is damaged or not recovered, the youth could be ordered to pay for a replacement, Hamilton said.

Whether a crime is committed by an adult or youth offender, an advocate will meet with the victim before court, go to juvenile or adult court with him and answer any questions afterward, she said.

The Victims Assistance Program does not provide emotional counseling, but it can refer victims to counseling services. For violent crimes, the offender could be ordered to pay for medical care and counseling costs, Hamilton said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com.