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Young probationers learn life skills

by ANNISA KEITH
Staff Writer | April 12, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Local youth on probation are blossoming as they learn new life skills while serving their sentence.

Although it began as a gardening program, the Plant House now teaches local youth how to craft various wood items and provides them with the opportunity to run a small business as part of their probation.

Probation is an alternative to incarceration in the justice system. Instead of being detained, those on probation are kept under the supervision of a probation officer. The goal of probation is to observe an individual’s behavior to determine if they are ready to fully reenter society.

“So we run what we call the ‘Plant House,’” said Justice Services Director Ron Stultz, “basically what that is, is a wood shop that our officer runs. Kids who are serving community service build planter boxes, picnic benches, picnic tables, and those types of things.”

According to their webpage, the Plant House was established in 2002 and employs a small number of juveniles who run the business, selling wooden garden fixtures and supplies.

The Plant House is considered a business because items built are sold for anywhere from $8- to $120. A portion of the revenue generated is credited toward the juvenile’s restitution as part of their sentence.

Restitution is court ordered compensation, typically paid by an offender to a victim, most commonly in the form of money.

In addition to f teaching youth how to build and sell things, Stultz said work done at the Plant House helps instill a work ethic that juveniles take into adulthood.

“I think it's really beneficial for our kids,” Stultz said, “because for the most part our kids work better with their hands. I think if we can get them some basic training, teach them some work ethic, I think we're better off as a community.”

Located on land close to the Bonner County Jail, Justice Services houses juvenile inmates and oversees other proceedings involving youth involved in the court system, including probation. Since its inception, the Plant House has generated over $21,000 in revenue.

However, all of the revenue generated by the Plant House had to be removed from their bank account, a move approved by commissioners on March 15. That was because the account does not comply with the county’s yearly external audit.

Every year, the county brings in a third-party accountant to assure that all county funds are being used appropriately.

“We had our external audit just recently. And they are the ones that said, 'Well, really, that's not how that should be set up.' And they said we needed to dissolve that trust account. We had to move the money out of there."

Even though the bank account had to be dissolved, funds generated by the Plant House were transferred to a designated section of the Justice Services budget and will still go toward keeping the program running.

“We hope to see every kid that leaves here a little bit better off than when they came in, and I think we see that for the most part,” Stultz said. “We see some of the worst things that happen to kids. … A lot of times those stories rip your heart out because they have lived through the worst of the worst things.”

But according to Stultz, those who go through juvenile probation are resilient individuals, despite living through extremely difficult circumstances.

“A lot of our kids are very, very resilient,” Stultz said.

Resources provided to youth include access to in- and out-patient treatment, substance abuse counseling, and positive role models found in probation staff.

“That's a big part of what the detention office and probation officers can be, they can be that positive role model.”

To view a list of products generated by the Plant House, or to learn more about Justice Services, visit their webpage on the county’s website at BonnerCountyID.gov/community-service-the-plant-house

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Photo by - ANNISA KEITH

Tools align the wall along the Plant House on site at Justice Services near the Bonner County Sheriff's Office. Juveniles on probation cultivate life skills and work ethic as they construct and sell items made in the Plant House to the greater community.

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Photo by - ANNISA KEITH

Multiple cans of wooden varnish sit ready for youth to use at the Plant House located on site at Justice Services near the Bonner County Sheriff's Office. Juveniles on probation cultivate life skills and work ethic as they construct and sell items made in the Plant House to the greater community.