“It is a good-news and bad-news scenario,” Circuit Court Judge Earnest E. Brown Jr. told a panel of experts in the field of juvenile crime gathered Tuesday evening at the Pine Bluff Convention Center for an open discussion on how best to address the problem.
Normally juvenile crime would rate a thumb down, but the panel discussion warrants a more positive approach because they are working to address the issue, not just talk about a problem that impacts every community.
Brown noted that there was both reason for optimism as well as reason for real concern when looking at area juvenile crime trends.
“The good news is that in 2008, when I took office, there were a lot of juvenile break-ins and thefts but they have been dramatically reduced. There were 60 break-ins in 2008 and that is down to 13 now. There were 122 thefts in 2008 and that is down to 31 now. We were able to accomplish this in part through teen court and mentoring. The bad news is that in that same period of time battery crimes, which are crimes against persons, and gun crimes have gone up.”
“The Prevention, Intervention and Treatment of Youth Crime: Solutions that Work” was sponsored by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and the 6th Division of Jefferson County Circuit Court Brown occupies as a juvenile judge.
Levi Thomas, executive director of United Family Services, observed that while some progress is being made, more needs to be done. He sees a sense of urgency in the community.
Like Brown, Thomas sees progress in addressing a unique community issue as an evolutionary process. “Just as the problem did not develop overnight it will not be solved overnight,” Thomas observed. “We must break the vicious cycles that have developed over the past two decades or so.”
State Rep. James Word noted that while legislation he is proposing may help stem the tide of youth, parents and all residents must become involved.
Ron Angel, director of the Division of Youth Services of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, placed a high percentage of the blame for youth crime with parents. “The No. 1 problem in this community as well as others is that we have a parenting problem,” Angel noted. “Kids are not being given the right message by their parents. There is a structure to DYS and when kids come into it they get that, they get attention and they get their education because we send them to school.”
However, when they return home they are reunited with the same youth that are likely the root of the original problem.
Four schools in Jefferson County are among the five schools that have the highest number of students committed to DYS. We have 34 kids committed from four schools in the county to DYS facilities. That is not a claim we can brag about.
Brown’s court has a Youth Advocate Program that has reduced commitments to DYS, hopefully redirecting bad behavior. It means saving the state money, but more importantly it means redirecting some young lives before their next address is a unit of the state Department of Correction.
A lack of effective parenting was a central issue that surfaced repeatedly in the discussion about youth crime. Good parents don’t glorify violence as the solution to neighborhood issues.
We have children committing crimes, but the answer begins at home, in the community and our churches. Blaming the lack of resources is abdicating responsibility. The parents, schools and community share in the blame when we fail to reach out to our children.