Funding would curb juvenile delinquency

CONYERS -- It takes a combination of community and parental involvement to keep kids out of trouble, but money cannot be left out of the equation, according to Juvenile Court and law enforcement officials.

The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners discussed extending the hours of the J.P. Carr gymnasium during its work session Monday in an effort to help youths occupy their time and stay out of trouble.

And there is trouble to be had in Rockdale County, as Juvenile Court Judge William Schneider noted an increase in local drug-related and property crimes, such as burglaries and thefts committed by minors.

Schneider thinks the community assumes some responsibility in curbing juvenile delinquency.

"It takes a community that does not end with the school bell at the end of the day," Schneider said. "It takes consistent caring and direction because we are battling 24 hours with our children being around children and other influences."

Kids get into trouble largely because of the lack of parental supervision and lack of constructive activities, according to Sgt. Jodi Shupe with the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office.

Those constructive activities become critical between 3 and 6 p.m. when kids are released from school and parents are typically still at work.

"Statistics also show this time of day to be the most likely time that juveniles would be the victim of a crime, be in a car crash, smoke or use drugs," Shupe said.

RCSO closed out 54 juvenile incident reports in the last three months, according to crime analyst Deputy Michael Camp.

Juvenile Court offers an Evening Reporting Center as an alternative to sending high-risk kids to Gwinnett County's Youth Detention Center.

Kids are taught life skills, receive homework help, hear from guest lecturers and engage in other activities. Parents of children are also offered counseling.

Schneider explained the center needs $10,000 to $15,000 to keep its doors open and has yet to receive county assistance.

"Having a tennis center or having an expansion of basketball courts or having money go into an animal shelter may be more important than dealing with the juveniles in the county," Schneider said. "Are we going to put our money into having an open basketball court or are we going to try to redirect children in an intended way so they can re-contribute?"

Theories vary on the causes of juvenile crime, explained Shupe, whether it depends on the individual or society.

"Most point the finger at their low financial status or lack of parental control. I personally think there has been a breakdown in respect for authority, including parents," Shupe said. "Most theories of juvenile delinquency have focused on children from disadvantaged families, ignoring the fact that children from affluent homes also commit crimes."

Citing state budget cuts, Schneider said juvenile delinquency is getting worse and the solution does not lie in basketball and tennis nets, considering the majority of the youths are not "going in the NBA. But a lot of them are going in the workforce," Schneider said.

"Everyone needs to work together," Shupe said. "Society, the community, the family, the government and the parents need to work together to understand what children are all about."