Juvenile Judges say state budget cuts cause crime concern - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Juvenile Judges say state budget cuts cause crime concerns

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By Jim Wallace - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) –Juvenile court judges say state budget cuts are part of the reason crime is on the rise.

They say cuts in education and corrections are leading some young people to believe they can break the law without facing much punishment.

Dougherty County juvenile courts saw a 68 percent increase in the number of burglary cases they tried in 2009, and so far in 2010 they are on pace to see another huge number. Albany Police say teens, many as young as 14, are a huge part of the burglary problem in the community. Judges say many of those young burglars know that even if they are caught, they probably won't serve more than 30 days.

Juvenile Judges Herbie Solomon and Richard Brooker say Dougherty County's new juvenile courtroom is a big improvement, letting kids who come there know crime is no joke. But the Judges say new state budget cuts basically tie their hands for sentencing.

 Judge Richard Brooker said "Your options are very limited."

Two state Youth Development Centers have closed, and the boot camps closed down.

 Judge Herbie Solomon said "The bed spaces for children who have run afoul of the law has been significantly decreased. The number of days that a child can be placed in detention has significantly decreased."

New legislation limits sentences for all but the most serious crimes or repeat juvenile offenders to only 30 days.  And the Judges say that emboldens young crooks.

Solomon said "The kids know it. Word gets around fast. That for some crimes, the max that you can receive is 30 days."

The Judges say taking away their ability to lock up kids in a disciplinary program long enough to have a positive impact, is crippling the court.

Brooker said "When a child is destroying his school and will not obey the authorities in the community, that child has got to be taken out of the community in my judgement. For a period of time that they can get some discipline in their lives."

Judges say they have good programs to set straight first offenders, and the most severe repeat offenders they can sentence to longer terms. But the growing number of the kids in the middle, who know they won't face serious time even when convicted, are fueling the increase of burglaries and crimes.

Solomon said "I think it does have a correlation, between what we are seeing on the street. Like I said earlier, the children are aware that those cuts are in effect. And the Judges are somewhat hamstrung by what they can do."

And the Judges feel that the money being cut from their budgets now, could lead to more adult crime and much greater costs in the future.

These Judges say keeping boot camps and wilderness detention programs open, having more space in youth detention centers, and not limiting sentencing would set more kids straight, away from crime, and reduce the crime fears in the community.

Both Judge Solomon and Judge Brooker say they think many juvenile burglars are being controlled by adults or gangs.

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