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Starting down the wrong path

688 delinquent allegations filed in 2006

688 delinquent allegations filed in 2006

April 15, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.-The number of juveniles charged with crimes in Franklin County, Pa., was lower in 2006 than it was 10 years ago, but was higher than it had been in any year since 2001.

In 1997, 810 delinquent allegations were filed against juveniles in the county, a number that dipped to as low as 594 in 2002, but rose to 688 in 2006, according to the Franklin County Juvenile Probation Department.

"The year after 9/11, it dropped tremendously," said Kathleen McGrath, the department's deputy chief probation officer. She speculated that drop, down from 776 in 2000 and 645 in 2001, might have been due to increased public awareness of crime and its impact on the community.

The 688 cases last year resulted in 1,397 charges against juveniles, according to department statistics. McGrath said the number of juvenile offenders is lower than that figure because some commit more than one crime in a year.

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"Things tend to be relatively stable," McGrath, who began as a probation officer in 1986, said of juvenile crime rates.

Assistant District Attorney Bret Beynon said business in juvenile court remains brisk, with the number of hearing days increasing from two a week a few years ago to three a week now.

"I think the cases we have filed are solid cases ... We have the same burden of proof and the same rules of evidence as adult court," Beynon said.

There were 676 juvenile court hearings last year, 430 before the juvenile court master and 221 before Judge Carol Van Horn.

Some categories, such as rape, indecent assault and some drug-related crimes, were down from 2005, although the numbers were relatively low to begin with. Others were on the rise.

Burglaries went from 34 in 2005 to 59 in 2006, but that jump in part can be accounted for by three Chambersburg-area teenagers taken into custody last summer. Chambersburg police filed more than 80 charges against the three, including 14 burglary charges related to seven break-ins.

Assaults by juveniles also were up, with 36 aggravated assault charges filed last year, compared to 24 in 2005. However, many of those are not committed by youths from this area, Beynon said.

"We're getting a lot more assaults out of placement agencies in the county," Beynon said.

Homicides by juveniles have been rare in the county. The last one McGrath could recall was in 1994, when two teenagers from Maryland shot and killed a convenience store clerk in Blue Ridge Summit, Pa.

Often, the young people housed at those facilities were brought here from other parts of Pennsylvania, Beynon said.

South Mountain Secure Treatment, VisionQuest, Cornell-Abraxas, the Franklin County Children's Aid Society and ARC Secure Treatment are some of the agencies with which juveniles are placed in the county, she said.

About 40 county juveniles are in detention at any one time. Some of the costs associated with detention are reimbursable through state and federal programs, McGrath said.

Last year, 62 juveniles placed in institutions were habitual offenders or had committed serious crimes such as robbery or sex offenses, she said.

The more likely outcome for a juvenile offender is judicial probation, Beynon said. Lesser sanctions include consent decrees, similar to the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for adults, and informal adjustments, through which counseling or community service might be ordered, she said.

In 76 instances, the allegations were withdrawn.

The juvenile justice system seeks "balanced and restorative justice" that takes into account the best interests of the offender and community, as well as the needs of the victims, McGrath said.

Unlike in adult court, there are no sentencing guidelines for juvenile offenses, said Mahesh K. Rao, a juvenile public defender. Specific crimes do not result in specific criminal sanctions, he said.

"It is up to the court to determine what disposition is most likely to facilitate the rehabilitation of the child ... and protection of the community," Rao said.

More than 83 percent of juvenile offenders in the county successfully complete their supervision without committing a new offense, according to county figures. McGrath said the majority go on to finish school, attend college, raise families and hold down jobs.

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