Time with parents can cut juvenile crime, Reno says Programs for adult-child interaction are needed, she tells state officials

March 12, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said yesterday that Maryland officials should concentrate on getting young children more time with their parents and other adults to make a dent in the growing problem of juvenile crime.

Speaking at a daylong summit on juvenile justice in Annapolis, Ms. Reno said no child should be without a mentor. She said police should team with health, social service and volunteer agencies to make it safer for residents to reach out to children and for parents to be involved in their neighborhoods.

She cited statistics that show more than half of youths nationally spend at least part of their adolescence living with only one parent, and spend significantly less time than ever before around adults. "I think it's time for all employers to figure out how we can permit both parents to spend more time with their children," Ms. Reno said. She likened the fight for children to the extraordinary efforts communities were forced to make to rebuild from disasters such as Hurricane Andrew and the Oklahoma City bombing.

"I have never been so sure as I have after three years in office tomorrow that America can do it," she said.

The summit was organized by state House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. to help legislators and state officials start remaking a juvenile justice system that is stretched to the limit. What Ms. Reno did not promise was financial help.

Federal cuts forced state Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Stuart O. Simms to cut $5 million from his budget earlier this year. Meanwhile, the number of cases the department handles has climbed by 36 percent since 1991.

Some legislators and advocates have questioned Mr. Simms' decision to close a creative program -- a boot camp for youths 15 to 18 in Charles County that community residents embraced and that had a good track record in the two years since it opened.

Mr. Simms has said he cannot afford the program, which costs $2.7 million a year and served mainly youths from Southern Maryland. Instead, he plans to funnel the money to a short-term program at the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County and to set up a new day-treatment program that would allow up to 60 youths at a time to live at home instead of in detention, with intensive supervision and electronic monitoring.

The rest of the money would go to maintain temporary beds and to bring youths placed out of state back to Maryland.

Ms. Reno stressed that governments must become more creative and effective with the limited funds they have to concentrate on prevention. Throughout the day, state officials seemed to come around to the same view.

When Gov. Parris N. Glendening took office last year, he and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend called a news conference to announce they were changing the name of the department from "Juvenile Services" to "Juvenile Justice," and emphasized the need for effective, timely punishment.

Yesterday, Mrs. Townsend sounded the same theme, but stressed the need to deter youths from committing crimes in the first place. She cited the results of a poll in Virginia that showed a substantial majority of those responding believed prevention should be the primary focus of the juvenile justice system.

"We cannot just do prevention any more than we can rely entirely on punishment," she said. "We can, and we must, do both."

Mrs. Townsend said a long-term solution might be to give communities the money -- and the responsibility -- to set up programs for many of their less serious juvenile offenders, a program used in many states.

Pub Date: 3/12/96

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