Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pendulum has swung too far in Juvenile Detention Programs

I am back, I apologize for my two weeks of non blogging I just kept not being able to get to it. Nothing major keeping me from it just every day busy stuff. As many of you have seen in the media Santa Fe County is experiencing an increase in burglaries recently just as the city has over the last year. Many of the arrests we make on burglars caught in the act or after the fact are juveniles. A few years ago the state passed reforms on the handling of Juvenile criminal offenders designed to reduce the numbers of juveniles incarcerated and divert those juveniles to programs rather than incarcerate. For the most part it was a good idea rooted in intervention and the idea that you only incarcerate the worst offenders.

The State came up with a scoring system which is used to evaluate juveniles when they are arrested. When an officer arrests a juvenile they call a Juvenile probation officer on the phone. The officer details the circumstances surrounding the arrest to the probation officer who uses the scoring sheet to add up the points. A juvenile must score above a certain number of points in order to be placed in the detention center. Points are given for whether the crime was a violent one, whether injury's or death are involved, the juveniles past history etc. The scoring is heavily weighted towards incarceration of violent offenders.

This means that those who are arrested for non violent crimes such as burglary, graffiti, D.W.I., and many gang related cases and other non violent crimes are usually not incarcerated. Think about it, you call the police because some kid just plowed into your car. We get there and he is drunk, you think as we put him or her into the back of out squad car that the offender is going to at least spend the night in detention. Instead we drive away with the child call his or her parents and have them pick up the child at our office. They go home with their parents suffering no short term legal consequences.

I say short term because I am not saying they don't suffer any consequences. They will eventually report to a probation officer and may or may not even see a judge. They will receive treatment, be monitored and pay reparations. However, what kind of message do we send in the short term when they just go home and find that they will not be detained even for one night? We have arrested at least five juveniles for burglary in September alone. Burglary is a felony punishable by prison if an adult commits the crime. In a burglary someone knowingly breaks into your home, vehicle or business in order to commit a crime, usually theft. It is a personally devastating crime. It robs victims of the sense of security in their own homes and creates fear and insecurity among its victims for years. It goes way beyond the value of the items taken. Yet children can commit burglary's with out any fear of incarceration.

Prior to the laws being changed in New Mexico the pendulum may have been to far in the opposite direction. Children were incarcerated for the most minor offenses which included running away from home. Children incarcerated for minor offenses were mixed in with those whom were incarcerated for major offenses including murder and rape. Those kids whose only crime may have been unhappiness at home or real home parenting issues were exposed to real criminals and as such likely to become friends with and end up assisting or emulating those children who were already lost to society. Someone recognized this and changes in the laws were sought and passed. In my opinion it was the right idea but those who drafted the regulations were over zealous in their execution.

The time has come to revisit the juvenile incarceration system and give more latitude towards including certain crimes such as DWI, felony burglary, auto theft and other serious felony's as crimes in which juveniles can be incarcerated. Juvenile Probation officers should be given more latitude to make individual case decisions based on the circumstances of the arrest and yes I do think some first time, one time juvenile burglars maybe should not go to detention. However, those who are caught during a burglary spree, or who admit to multiple burglary's should at least spend one night away from home to think about what they have done. I also believe D.W.I. should always be an immediate incarceration. The public really has no idea that kids who commit these types of crimes do not get incarcerated. I know that changes will not occur until the public is aware of whats happening and only then will the pendulum began its slow swing back to somewhere in the center.


Anonymous said...

Good observation! This is just more of our broken mental health system ideas at work! Laws are laws, and crimes are crimes. Where does the idea come from that a Probation officer can make a determination when he is not a doctor or judge? All of these points systems are offered not to help the child but to put him into a counseling system that does not make anyone more responsible or better it just puts them into a slippery slope to more trouble, and of course more need of ficticous help offered by the failed psychiactic system.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, one will get shot dead...then the issue will be looked at by the fat politicos in this town.