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Put a stop to juvenile crime

December 6, 2011
James Pirko - Community Columnist , Tribune Chronicle | TribToday.com

How many more of these incidents should we tolerate? In Warren, children are sent to the hospital because they are assaulted by other students in the schools. In Youngstown, teenagers are being murdered by other teenagers. On the streets and in the shopping centers, packs of young people are running wild, assaulting citizens and vandalizing property.

These are not just inconsequential childish antics or ''boys will be boys'' bullying horseplay; these are real crimes with real victims. Failure to protect victims amounts to child endangering.

The schools are starting to respond to these problems with anti-bullying campaigns, but their remedies and resources are inadequate and limited. Schools can try to instill a culture of mutual respect to make bullying unacceptable behavior, but what can they do with those who do not get the message? If they suspend or expel students, this only rewards the offenders with free time vacations to cause more trouble.

Instead, the schools should be required to report any crime committed by or against any minor immediately to the police. Arresting the perpetrators is only the first step, with little effect when the courts teach young criminals that there are no real consequences by playing catch-and-release.

Remember the Danny Lee Hill case in Trumbull County a quarter-century ago, when it was disclosed during the pre-sentencing investigation that he was found to be a serial rapist as a juvenile but was released repeatedly by the juvenile court? If the courts had tried and sentenced him as an adult the first time he committed a rape, he would not have been free on the streets to continue raping, and eventually murdering a 12-year-old Boy Scout.

The weaknesses of the criminal justice system were constant topics of discussion in my law enforcement classes at YSU over three decades ago. Apparently, the situation has not improved.

The juvenile crime problem will not be solved until the juvenile court judges seriously drop the hammer with life-changing consequences, removing dangerous repeat-offender young thugs from our schools and neighborhoods. Judges have wide discretion with sentencing, and they are not serving the best interests of the community, or the offenders, with ineffective leniency.

Changing this will require an effort just like the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) used to pressure the Ohio legislature to strengthen the laws for drunk and drugged drivers, and to hold judges accountable. When I was serving as the Niles Municipal Court bailiff in the 1980s, I saw MADD in action. They watched the court dockets for pending cases and had observers in the courtroom. MADD earned respect and got results, with a game plan that can be followed by the crime watch and neighborhood associations in our communities.

We may need the Ohio legislature to change the laws requiring judges impose mandatory minimum sentencing, with effective incarceration/rehabilitation programs, possibly like this:

First offense: ''Scared Straight Weekend,'' with an up-close and personal view of inmate life and a night in solitary lockdown. Follow this with at least a year of supervised probation and guidance.

Second offense or probation violation: Boot Camp starting with a week in solitary lockdown, followed by a few weeks of Marine-style intensity to get their attention and break their self-destructive habits. Follow this with supervised probation until age 18.

Third offense or serious probation violation: Commitment to the Ohio juvenile corrections system until age 21, with more intensive rehabilitation and education. If they get with the program and demonstrate rehabilitation, they can earn early release.

For extremely serious crimes, and depending upon the age of the juvenile criminal, trial as an adult and long term prison sentences are a last resort. Any juvenile court convictions should count as prior offenses for the determination of sentencing.

This will not be easy or cheap, but it is worth a serious effort to stop juvenile crime and the loss of young lives to the constantly repeating cycles of crime.

Pirko is a Weathersfield resident. Email him at editorial@tribtoday.com.

 
 

 

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