Number Of County Juvenile Offenders Drops Sharply

Puzzled Officials Think Agencies' Efforts Part Of Reason

March 10, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — Young people don't fall through the cracks when they get into trouble with the law in Carroll, a fact that officials say could explain a sharp decrease in the number of cases handled by the county Department of Juvenile Services in 1990.

Court and school officials say the28 percent drop in juvenile delinquency last year over 1989 is especially mysterious in light of the increases in cases in surrounding counties over the same period.

In 1989, 936 youths were referred to the department by county schools and police agencies. In 1990, that number dropped to 673, said Delmas Wood, supervisor of juvenile services in Carroll, Howard, Harford and Baltimore counties.

And of the young people referred to thedepartment last year, only 185 had to go to court for their offenses, Wood said.

In Howard County, juvenile cases increased 45 percent. In Frederick, they went up by 22 percent.

Cases that are referred to Juvenile Services include misdemeanors -- like theft under $300-- and felonies, such as rape or breaking and entering.

Wood and other county officials have a few theories about why the number of cases is dropping here, but no one can say for sure.

"For the past several years there has been a slow, steady increase in the number of cases that were handled by Juvenile Services," said Wood, who served as director of the county department for 11 years before taking over as a regional supervisor last year. "That wasn't odd, because it was keeping up with the population growth."

But, Wood said, it is odd to see a decrease when the population of the county continues to grow.

Wood said he couldn't pinpoint any single program or service that caused the decline, but speculated that it is a combination of Carroll agencies doing a good job.

"In Carroll, we are able to pay a lot of attention to individual kids. In other counties, sometimes kidsget shuffled around, and no one really keeps after them. That doesn't happen here," Wood said.

That opinion is shared by Juvenile Master Peter M. Tabatsko, who hears the court cases for offenders under 18.

"This just may be one of those happy circumstances where everything is working the way it's supposed to," said Tabatsko. "We take the time to work with the children here, and we try hard not to let them go astray."

One reason the juvenile system in Carroll works is that young people who get into trouble are not let off the hook, Wood said.

He said some kids who are sentenced to hours of community service think they can get away without doing the work.

"Then they are brought back into court and given more hours of community service,so they find out that won't work," Wood said.

Not every case thatis referred to Juvenile Services goes through the court system. Woodestimates that only a third of juvenile cases go before Tabatsko each year.

"If we can, our bias is to keep kids out of court," Wood said. "We have to figure out if a juvenile really needs court action to straighten them out, or if we can handle it some other way."

Many young people are placed by the five Carroll juvenile caseworkers into drug and alcohol counseling programs, family counseling sessions or community service, Wood said.

"The places that provide servicesin Carroll provide it expeditiously. I can't say that is why the rate has gone down, but I think it's related to why it has gone down," he said.

One of the key things to look for in a child that is in trouble is problems at school, he said.

"We generally do not see kids who are doing well in school getting into trouble," he said.

School officials say they agree. An increased focus by the Board of Education on keeping young people in school every day may have contributed to the decline in juvenile delinquency cases, said Richard J. Simmons, a pupil personnel worker.

Simmons credits the Saturday School,begun in 1988, and Smoking School, begun in 1989, with keeping kids off the street and out of trouble.

Instead of suspending students and having them at home for two or three days, the two programs offerthem a "positive, constructive experience" and lets them examine whythey are smoking or skipping school, Simmons said.

"There are fewer kids on the street (at the time) when the breaking and enterings and shopliftings occur," he said.

Simmons stopped short of saying the programs have caused the decline in juvenile cases.

Another program that officials point to as a possible factor in reduction of cases is the state police DARE curriculum.

DARE -- Drug Abuse Resistance Education -- is taught in the sixth or seventh grade by five state police troopers from the Westminster barracks.

Retired Circuit Judge Donald J. Gilmore, former Carroll administrative judge, said he believes increased cooperation between the school board and the police has had something to do with the decline in the number of youngsters getting into trouble.

"Under Superintendent Ed Shilling, there has been an opening up of the relationship between the police and the schools. I think it has had a tremendous effect," said Gilmore, who served on the bench for 13 years until his September retirement.

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