Eastern Idaho program helps young people mature

Young Adult Court offers an alternative to jail or prison for 18- to 24-year-olds.


IDAHO FALLS — Teyler Sato always thought she was having a good time.

Nearly every day during her junior year of high school, Sato said, she was high. She often ditched classes, didn’t listen to her mother and admits she lied about things — a lot.

Today, looking back on that time, 20-year-old Sato said Bonneville County’s Young Adult Court — also known as YAC — changed her outlook on life.

“They’re trying in YAC to get us to prepare ourselves (for the future) and to not be so impulsive,” Sato said.

The Idaho Falls woman was sentenced to Young Adult Court in 2012 after she was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia and consumption of alcohol by a minor.

The specialty court started two years ago in Bonneville and Jefferson counties. It’s designed for those whose poor decision-making lands them in trouble with the law.

The specialty court is assigned at sentencing. The sentencing judge places the young adult on probation while he or she completes the program.

“This population is frustrating,” said Jared Bingham, executive director for D7 treatment. “Their impulsivity is the biggest issue. Something comes along that sounds like a great idea and they do it. ... They have less to lose.”

As a result, young people such as Sato are often unsuccessful in drug court or other specialized courts with more rules and regulations, said Aimee Austin, Bonneville County drug court coordinator.

“Commitment to an 18- or 19-year-old is a lot different than commitment to a 30-year-old. Tolerance is the key,” Austin said. “There’s a lot of stuff (in YAC) that won’t be tolerated in other courts.”

Bingham, who supervises Young Adult Court treatment strategies, said the court uses a structured program to help participants gain perspective on their behavior and maturity.

They work on honesty. They discuss the positive and negative things in their lives. They look at who is responsible for the things that have happened to them, Bingham said. They also look to the future and apply what they learn to help them make better decisions.

Since the program started, 12 young adults have graduated. Another 42 remain in the two-year program. But some graduate in less than two years.

At any one time, Young Adult Court can accommodate up to 50 participants. Ten spots are available for juveniles, 20 for misdemeanor crimes, 10 for felony crimes and 10 for crimes that occur in Jefferson County.

When Sean Pope, 21, started Young Adult Court, he didn’t have a high school diploma, a driver’s license or a job. To buy drugs, he had sold most of the little he did own, including six of his cherished guitars.

When Pope graduated from the program, however, the Idaho Falls man had received his GED diploma, qualified for a driver’s license and was able to buy a car and recover one of his pawned guitars. He also had a job, as well as the skills he needed to make better decisions about his life.

“I didn’t understand a lot of the impact of the things I was doing and the impact that it would have on my life and my family’s life before YAC,” he said.

One difference between drug court and YAC is reporting about drug use. If a client talks to his or her counselor about drug use, the counselor does not relay that information to the probation officer — something that’s required in other specialty courts.

“It’s nice to have someone to talk to that you’re not gonna worry about ‘Am I gonna be in trouble for this?’ So you can work through what happened so it doesn’t happen again,” Sato said. “Rather than thinking, ‘I don’t want to tell them because I’ll go to jail if I tell them.’ ”

Bingham said that was a goal when the Young Adult Court model started.

“I’ve been doing drug courts 10 years, and what’s surprising is that I didn’t think they’d open up,” he said. “But (the clients) did, and when we know what’s really going on, we’re able to deal with those problems.”

Juvenile Probation Officer Sharon Portela said that as clients proceed through Young Adult Court, she expects negative drug tests early in the process. But rarely does that happen as the clients apply what they’ve learned.

Sato and Pope admitted to backsliding while working their way through the program. It was during specialty court that Sato finished her high school diploma, got a job and stopped using drugs.

“People who fight it say ‘It was a waste of time,’ but if you let it work, then it will,” Sato said. “It will widen so many different aspects of your life.”

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