Thousands of children make up the Richmond County juvenile justice system. Many times, those kids become adult offenders. A local judge, however, is hoping to put a stop to that. NewsChannel 6 sat down with Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan and his staff to discuss how they are working to cut down on kids becoming criminals as adults. The programs aimed at helping those children who have brushes with the law currently have about an 80 percent success rate. That’s a good number according to leaders within juvenile court. But we wanted to identify what some of the biggest contributors are to what causes kids to commit crimes and how the community can help fix the problem.
“It’s awful hard for any youth to be out committing a crime if mama’s got them at home at 5 o’clock at the kitchen table doing their homework,” said Judge Flanagan who oversees more than 2,000 children in the juvenile justice system.
He told us the programs he offers helps to turn kids around from various types of crimes. He also said the biggest contributing issue is families not functioning as they should.
“Nobody gets found guilty in juvenile court and I think a lot of people don’t know that,” he explained. “Youths that come to court are found to be in need of treatment, supervision or rehabilitation.”
Flanagan runs juvenile court for Burke, Columbia and Richmond Counties and it’s the treatment programs that he and his staff believe help keep kids from crimes.
“By the time maybe the media hears about a juvenile where something serious has happened, a burglary, a murder, etc., probably that juvenile has had several contacts with juvenile court and it’s not all criminal,” said DaCara Brown, who works as Judicial Staff Attorney.
She told NewsChannel 6 there are a few options kids have for treatment: Multisystemic Therapy (MST) and Aggression Replacement Therapy (ART) for both violent and non-violent offenders underage, respectively. Therapists go inside the home to help chronic and violent offenders through MST, while other kids in the ART program learn things such as anger issues in group therapy. MST is an intensive individual based family intervention, according to Brown. ART is group based intervention.
Brown added, “There are children living right here in the CSRA who are in high school, but they go home to an apartment everyday that’s provided by the state.”
The court works to capture kids before they commit crimes and that’s done by working with the local school district’s social workers. Those social workers report when students are absent for multiple days, which sends a red flag to juvenile court that something is wrong in the home. The key, according to Education and CHINS Coordinator Audrey Armistad, is finding out why kids miss multiple days.
“A lot of kids are suffering with some mental health issues,” said Armistad who works directly with Richmond County School System. “They are just either not being identified or they’re not being treated. Drugs and alcohol in the system that leads to them not being able to focus in school.”
Armistad added that kids sometimes fall behind in school and make up excuses in order to miss school as to avoid revealing what they do not know.
Judge Flanagan added that the community can help too, mainly by making sure that there are enough programs for children to take part in outside of school. He also added that he is working with the county to hopfully gain access to the building across the street from the Sheriff’s Office. He said space and more staff is needed to make sure kids are on the right track along with families doing their job.
Additionally, Judge Flanagan said there are a lot of components that make up the juvenile justice system. Part of it is DFCS, servicing kids who have no issues with crime, they just have issues with their home life.
A symposium will take place Tuesday, January 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Municipal Building in the community room.
Photojournalist: Mark Gaskins