AXING a program that teaches automotive skills to at-risk youth could cost the state more in the long run, Mission Australia state director Noel Mundy has warned.
Deputy Commissioner Scott Tilyard said yesterday that police would not fund the $850,000 a year program after the existing contract ends in September.
The Mission Australia program employs nine staff and has had about 260 participants in its 10-year history, many of whom had a history of car theft and were referred by police.
At the end of each 10-week course a restored car is presented to a victim of motor vehicle theft and successful graduates earn a certificate one in Automotive.
Mr Mundy said the program could not survive without government funding.
Hazell Bros human resources manager Jon Schwaiger said he had supported U-turn since 2007 and employed 14 of its graduates.
"People that get through the 10-week course here show that they are work-ready and show that they have got some discipline in the workplace and they want an opportunity," Mr Schwaiger said.
"I think it's less risk taking someone from U-turn than putting an ad in the paper and letting anyone turn up."
Mr Tilyard said continued budget pressures, compounded by another $4 million budget cut forecast for May this year, meant it could no longer afford to support the program.
He said the program cost was equal to 10 frontline police officers and cutting it might mean those 10 positions did not have to go.
Mr Tilyard said he could not guarantee funding would be restored if even if the state granted police the cost to cover it in the next budget.
"When people need the police, they expect the police to be there as soon as possible," he said.
"That's what our priority needs to be."
But Mr Schwaiger said the cost of not funding the program and diverting at-risk youths away from a life of crime could be much higher.
"If money is tight, you need to direct your spending into the most effective areas," he said.
"These people are human beings, they are not going to disappear just because they get a sentence.
"And once they go into the penal system, I reckon they are learning more skills in there to stay in that system than they would if they had the up-front diversionary program."