Bainbridge-- Teenagers and juvenile delinquency in Bainbridge have been the topic of much discussion in monthly forums. "The aim was trying to figure on what's going on with our juveniles, why they were doing what they're doing, and what we as a community can do to prevent juvenile crime," says Cecelia Willis with the Decatur County Sheriff's Office.
Turnout and response were good, but they forgot one thing. "At the end of the second meeting was when we realized we neglected to talk to some of the people that really really mattered which was the juveniles to find out what was going on with them, what they thought, what they needed, and issues that they commonly face," Willis explains. They created and distributed a survey to 237 teenagers, asking questions like "If you committed a crime, why did you do it?"
"There were some things that didn't surprise me. They said the issues they commonly face were boredom. We did see a lot of them said peer pressure was a problem for them, gangs, drug use," says Willis. Other answers were more surprising and revealing. Almost 25% of students who responded said they'd witnessed criminal activity in their own home. "When they commit a crime, fighting, gang activity, why am I surprised at that? When we can go back and see, surveying anonymously your child, they say what I witness every night is this in my home," says Dana Bryant, Services Coordinator for Decatur County Schools.
Also surprising, over half the students asked answered that going to jail is not a deterrent to committing a crime. "There's lots and lots of different reasons. The ones that stands out in my mind the most is that they're teenagers and they're going to do what they're going to do," says Willis.
The next step will be to figure out how they can help, but some say they've already seen a difference. Bryant says, "With people that are involved with juvenile crime I have seen them tend to want to go the extra mile, not just go to lockup but try to find what the root cause is." It's definitely a work and progress but they hope by taking the step to ask the teens what they thing, they're also taking a step in the right direction.
Organizers of the forum are working to find money for more positive activities for juveniles and to pay for transportation to those activities for teens who don't have any.