ALPENA - It appears that programs in Alpena County are leading to a reduced number of juvenile delinquencies, and the number of juveniles who are repeat offenders has drastically decreased. According to a recent year end report from probate court the number of juveniles charged with a crime dropped 50 percent from 2011.
Judge Tom LaCross said it is encouraging to see the number of crimes committed by adolescents drop. He said the decline is credited to the success of programs offered to help struggling youth. LaCross said the youth drug court and the supervised community service program are two of the main reasons more kids are staying out of trouble. He said the community in general has helped to limit the amount of crimes being committed by minors.
"I would think the drop in delinquencies is purely a result of the court, but it is not. Society is responding to delinquent acts; we have a stronger law enforcement response and a greater response in the schools," LaCross said. "Mental health is responding and places like girls and boys clubs, youth groups and church groups are responding. It is because of all of these type of things put together that has allowed us to see the drop in delinquencies."
LaCross said one of the leading causes of crime is drugs. He said the recent problem the area had with synthetic drugs was a real concern, but because of strong community support and swift action by District Health Department No. 4, the drugs, which were legal at the time but are now banned in the state, were removed from store shelves and out of the hands of children.
"The community really responded in a marvelous way, more aggressively than any community in the state," LaCross said. "Alpena was ahead of the curve when it came to these dangerous drugs. There were protests, public meetings, and the community just took the ball and ran with it. The citizens stood up and said this is enough and we can't wait for a law to be passed. The health department declared the drugs a public hazard and the stores were raided, and because of all these things the kids couldn't get the drugs. This could be the biggest factor in why the number of juvenile crimes went down."
The local youth work program has been in place for some time, and according to LaCross it has been recognized statewide and even offered as an example to other communities. LaCross said it also plays a roll in reducing crime. He said kids who have been in trouble do work for the county or nonprofit organizations. He said it is effective because other kids see the workers in the brightly colored vests, which mark them as a juvenile criminal, and send them a message.
"The supervised community work was the subject of articles in the Detroit Free Press and the Michigan Supreme Court website has it as one of its highlighted programs that work well," LaCross said. "This program is cheap and very effective. Right now other courts are emulating what we have started."
LaCross said keeping children on the straight and narrow begins at home and with the parents. He said teachers, community leaders and the courts can help, but it is the parents who must set the example and be mindful of what their children are doing.
"The most important team player is the parents and or parent," LaCross said. "They have a huge responsibility not only to make the child, but to raise the child to adulthood and to be a responsible citizen, the child has the right to a good upbringing. I think schools should offer parenting classes. It is as important as math or English in my opinion."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.