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Lack of parental discipline responsible for juvenile crime
Article by Meredith Browne
Nationally, juvenile crime has been on the decline. According to statistics from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the overall juvenile arrest rate was 24 percent lower in 2010 than in 1980.
An Act of "Savagery"
Tiffany Long, a 10-year-old girl from Alamance County, had been raped, strangled and consequently beaten to death. Investigators found her body behind an abandoned house. The murder was so horrendous that at least five attorneys dodged the case.
Dorthia Bynum, the primary defendant, was eligible for the death penalty and was only 17 at the time of the incident.
Craig Thompson, Bynum’s attorney for the case, negotiated a plea bargain for his client to be sentenced a minimum of 124 years. After the case, it took Thompson three years before he was able to represent another client charged with first-degree murder.
“One of the things that struck me, the description of the crime scene – they found this little girl’s Hello Kitty backpack,” he recalled. “You have a 10-year-old girl who thinks she’s going off with her friends, with the little Hello Kitty backpack and ends up brutally, brutally murdered.”
Timeline by Andrew Wilson via TimelineJS
Breaking the cycle
In 1998, a few months before Long’s murder, the North Carolina State Legislature voted to alter the state’s approach to juvenile delinquency prevention and justice. The goal was to adopt a program that would treat juveniles according to the seriousness of their crimes, the risks they posed and their personal histories.
The catalyst of change was the North Carolina Juvenile Justice Reform Act, an effort led by Gov. Jim Hunt. In turn, the state has made tremendous strides in improving the juvenile justice system, including a 10-year-low juvenile offense rate and reduction of confinement by two-thirds. The reduction of confinement has saved taxpayers more than $20 million, according to criminologist and N.C. resident James C. Howell.
In counties across the state, Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils galvanize community leaders to reduce and prevent juvenile crime. The Council allocates finances and resources into different programs that will best serve the county’s individual risks and needs. Out of the $23 million distributed to these councils annually, Alamance County’s Juvenile Crime Prevention Council (JCPC) receives approximately $330,000.
Craig Thompson is the Assistant District Attorney for Alamance County. His wife Pam serves on the Board of Education for the Alamance-Burlington School System as well as the NC Domestic Violence Commission. Despite the fact that the highly elevated degree of violence in the Long case is rare in Alamance County, the Thompsons see a common denominator between Dorthia’s background and other at-risk juveniles.
“These kids were failed miserably by their homes,” Pam Thompson said. “People have got to care because when kids don’t think they matter, they don’t matter. And then whatever they do doesn’t matter.”
Craig Thompson agreed.
“They’re simply raised to think any option is okay," he said. "Whatever feels good, do it. And we're paying the piper for that now."
Thompson said he believes that if JCPC and other resources were available for Dorthia, she might have avoided a life behind bars.
Infographic created by Andrew Wilson via Infogr.am
Prevention through System of Care
Crpl. Chad Laws currently serves as the Turrentine Middle School Resource Officer on behalf of JCPC. In addition, Laws is also involved with D.A.R.E. programs across the county and the Junior Police Academy.
While school complaints — comprised of felonies and misdemeanors — to the Division of Juvenile Justice have decreased 24 percent in the past three years, Laws said he has already handled a number of school incidents this year involving parents and their children.
“Parents of young kids will come in and the only way they know how to handle conflict or a situation involving their child is to press charges,” he said.
In handling these incidents as a sitting member of JCPC, Laws tries to steer individuals away from the court system by recommending services that could be helpful to the family. Known as “wrap-around services,” some of the areas of contact include mental health providers and service workers. Other programs funded by JCPC, such as the Dispute Settlement Center, are also recommended to families.
Video by Meredith Browne
Known as the System of Care, the goal is to provide the right kinds of resources to families as early as possible. Laws said Alamance County has been very forward-thinking on utilizing the system’s model, with other counties in the state following suit.
“‘One Family, One Team, One Plan’ is kind of the theory behind it,” Laws said. “You’re wanting to wrap around these families with all of the resources that are available in the community.
As a member of the Board of Education, JCPC Chairman Steve Van Pelt firmly believes engaging kids in school will deter them from getting in trouble with the law. For that reason, Van Pelt sees special significance in JCPC’s Teen Outreach Program (TOP).
Designed as a preventive program, it is run by the Alamance Health Department. Each year, coordinators work with seventh-grade and eighth-grade students from two middle schools that are considered high-risk. According to Van Pelt, Graham Middle School and Broadview School are the two schools that have been considered high-risk for the past few years.
TOP lessons are integrated into the school curriculum, providing students with the opportunity to learn about character development, community service and other ways to be successful citizens. Van Pelt said that if the Council had more funds at their disposal, he would like to support more proactive programs similar to TOP that attempt to engage the community.
“I would like to see more proactive programs like TOP that would be out in the community where we can support programs like that," Van Pelt said.
Across the board, the county has seen improvements in juvenile crime. For instance, the number of juvenile cases from Alamance County that are referred to the N.C. Division of Juvenile Justice dropped 38 percent since 2004. Additionally, the number of juveniles detained or housed in state-run youth development centers has also decreased.
Despite the improvements, the county’s delinquency and dropout rate still remain higher than the state average.
Infographic by Andrew Wilson via Infogr.am
A JCPC proposal in February 2013 cited a number of alarming issues that are present in Alamance County juvenile crime.
Despite the decrease in reportable offenses, drug and alcohol use at school has continued to remain high. Van Pelt said the problem has localized itself, typically distributed in one or two areas of the county.
“Between Southern High School and Southern Middle School, that is about two-thirds of our drug offenses,” he said.
Laws also attests to the lack of respect he has witnessed on school grounds.
“The age of the individuals that are starting to exhibit those behaviors are getting younger and younger,” Laws said. “That is disturbing because that means they’re going to get involved with the court system at a very early age — at a young age — which is not really what we want.”
For the last three years, Alamance County has also been above the state average in juveniles under age 12 at their first offense. Pam Thompson maintains that these issues originate from the breakdown of the family.
“It’s not up to your kid to become an adult when they are 12 years old,” she said. “It's up to you to train them, to become successful, responsible, and to care.”
Power in Unity
Looking to the future, the same vision is echoed amongst those concerned with juvenile crime in Alamance County.
“I think we’ve got a target out here and were trying to hit it,” Van Pelt said. “We’ve all got to be focused on the target.”
Community members believe that success comes from the cumulative efforts of the kid, the parents and the school.
“Everybody’s got to care because it may not be my kid but that kid can change my future,” Pam Thompson said. “We’ve got to realize that our children are our future and we’re going to determine the kind of future we have based on what we put into our kids.”
A look inside: Life inside the walls of Guilford County Juvenile Detention Center
Life inside article by Kate Riley
Charles Dingle is the program manager at the Guilford County Juvenile Detention Center in Greensboro, N.C. Currently, the detention center houses 17 juveniles, aged 10-17, who have committed crimes from petty theft to attempted homicide.
"We have kids that are here for simply running away from home, so we keep them for a few nights," Dingle said. "But then we have everything up to murder, arsonist, larcenist, sex offenses, you name it. Everything that you guys would see on TV or in the newspaper."
The juveniles are separated in the "pods" of the facility by their gender, age and often, the severity of their crime.
One of Dingle's main jobs is ensuring rehabilitation and everyday programs are effectively implemented for the juveniles, programs that push them to be better once they are released.
However, Dingle said that about 60 to 65 percent of the kids do come back to the detention center – a relatively high recidivism rate.
"It's just the nature of the business," he said. "It's not necessarily that they are committing more charges, but they are violating their probation. It's really easy for kids to come back into this building."
The type of household a child grows up in often determines their possibility of ending up in juvenile detention, Dingle said. If a parent sees a pattern of their child committing smaller crimes that might eventually turn into more heinous crimes, the parent is able to bring the child to their detention center to realize what their life could be like behind bars.
"The child will sit down with an officer, and we will see what issue is going on," Dingle said. "We will let them see the cell, the uniforms, the leg irons, the shackles; they have to understand that if they don't change their behavior, this is what their life is going to be like.
This program is a free service offered by the detention center, and Dingle hopes it prevents future juvenile crimes.
"We are all about intervention," he said. "I know some people say 'Wow, y'all are doing that? You are running yourselves out of business.' No. It's just a matter of trying to save these kids, and if we can stop one child from coming here, we know we've done our job."