Today is the Anne Arundel County Council's last chance to save the Careers Center, a wonderful program that has been helping troubled teens for 15 years.
Last year, the council's last-minute lobbying persuaded County Executive Robert R. Neall to put the $330,000 program back in the budget. This year, Mr. Neall seems determined to kill it no matter what anyone says.
Council members should try anyway. Most of them support the Crownsville-based facility, but other than making a few comments about what a shame it would be to lose it, they've done nothing to fight for it.
Before the council helps Mr. Neall drive the last nail in the Careers Center's coffin, the members should consider a few facts:
* It costs $3,300 to put a teen-ager through the Careers Center, versus $18,000 or more to keep him or her in jail for a year.
* Money aside, the county jail has no room to keep these kids, should they end up in trouble. In the recent heated debate over future jail needs, people have been arguing for alternative sentencing programs -- just like the Careers Center.
* Juvenile court masters strongly support the program. "There's nothing else like it," said master Erica J. Wolfe.
* The study which Mr. Neall is using to justify eliminating the program can also be used to make a case for its continuance. It shows that only one-third of all the teens who graduate from the program are re-arrested while they are juveniles, and only 26 percent are re-arrested as adults. That is pretty darned good, considering that recidivism rates for youths placed on probation stand at 60 percent.
The council should also remember what the study does not show. It does not show that many teens who do not complete the 100-day program leave because they are failures, but rather because they return to school or work. And it does not conclude that the program should be eliminated. What it found was that the center would operate more effectively if it increased staffing. This makes sense, given that its personnel has been reduced by three-fourths since its founding.
Even with only six full-time workers, the center is doing a remarkable job of changing kids who otherwise would be headed to jail.
The place is doing something right. It doesn't deserve to die.