Offenders are younger now | RecordCourier.com

Offenders are younger now

by Sharon Carter

“Unfortunately, business is good,” says Juvenile Justice Administrator Kirby Burgess of the Eighth Judicial District. “It’s not something we’re pleased about.”

Burgess is in a good position to know. He has been chief juvenile probation officer and head of Child Protective Services for the past five years in Clark County, the most populous and fastest-growing area in the fastest-growing state in the nation. And with a total of 24 years as a juvenile probation officer in Clark County, Burgess has witnessed many changes, both in the sorts of kids who get into trouble with the law and in the crimes they commit.

n Las Vegas. “There are some trends we see developing, one of the most troubling is that we’re seeing younger offenders, more kids aged 9 to 11 committing crimes,” Burgess said in an interview Monday. “We’re seeing an increase in violent crimes, an increase in drug-related crimes primarily in older kids and we’re also seeing more female offenders.”

Burgess said the Las Vegas area has seen growth in juvenile gangs.

“It’s not what you might think,” Burgess said. “Often when a gang comes in, other kids group together for protection and another gang gets formed and violence occurs.”

Nevada’s 17 counties are divided into nine judicial districts, each with an office of juvenile probations. And while juvenile justice administrators in the rest of the state may not see the sheer numbers of cases Burgess sees in his district, business is ‘good’ everywhere.

The trends Burgess sees, with some local variations, hold for most of the state as a whole.

n Carson City. Bill Lewis, juvenile justice administrator for Nevada’s First Judicial District, which serves Carson City and parts of Storey County, said many cases he sees are referred by schools. The juvenile facility on Fifth Street in Carson City also does courtesy holds for Lyon, Churchill and Nye counties. Until recently, it also held juveniles from Douglas County.

“A trend for us is that the offenses tend to be less serious in the summer, when school isn’t in session,” Lewis said. “This is not scientific. Let’s put it this way, sometimes the segment of the youth we come in contact with aren’t the best students and don’t want to be in school. School has its way of gathering kids together. But in the summer, the kids have the ability to get part-time or full-time jobs and get out of the associations and environments they don’t want to be in.”

n Reno. Carol Galantoumini, the juvenile justice administrator for Nevada’s Second Judicial District, said that while Washoe County, with a school population of 52,813 students, is more urban than any area in the state except Clark County, the rural patterns hold there.

“We don’t see the dramatic seasonal drops in juvenile offenses we saw a few years ago, but we’re still see a slowdown during the summer and in December and January,” Galantoumini said. “We’ll see what happens with year-round school. It’s hard to draw patterns across the board when you’re talking about people.”

n Yerington and Fallon. Chuck Steele in Yerington and Steven Grund in Fallon are juvenile justice administrators in the Third Judicial District. They said the rural pattern still holds in their district.

“We’re also seeing younger offenders and kids more prone to physically acting out,” Grund said. “People used to settle disagreements with their mouths, now it’s fists. The nature of the community determines the nature of the crimes committed – we mostly see physical altercations and property crimes, primarily thefts. I would say about 80 percent have substance abuse issues – either the kids or the parents are abusing alcohol or other drugs. And universally, alcohol is the drug of choice.

“But remember, we’re talking about a small percent of our kids, people sometimes forget that means most of the kids are doing OK.”

n Elko. Sandy Tedsen, juvenile administrator in the Fourth Judicial District, said property crimes were the most common juvenile offenses in Elko and fewer crimes where committed there during the summer.

n Hawthorne. Steve Hagen, a juvenile probation officer for the Fifth Judicial District which encompasses Mineral, Nye and Esmeralda counties, said while the population has been declining in many areas of the district, the community of Pahrump is growing rapidly.

“We’re anxious to see what the 2000 census figures will show,” Hagen said. “People move to a rural area thinking it will keep their kids out of trouble, but rural areas don’t have money for programs and activities for kids the cities can provide. Then the parents commute to work in Las Vegas, 60 miles each way, so the kids have more time without supervision.”

Hagen said seasonal patterns were fading, particularly in Pahrump.

n Winnemucca. Fernando Serreno, chief JPO for Nevada’s Sixth Judicial District (Humboldt, Lander and Pershing counties), said he believes the core issues are the same everywhere.

“We see one common denominator, family dysfunction, even with the more serious offenses,” Serreno said. “Unemployment and layoffs, single-parent families and mother-stepfather or mother-father figure combinations. The parents sometimes have a lot of issues and it’s not so much bad parenting as it is no parenting at all.

“In more and more cases, we’re seeing the parent’s drug problem is equal to to greater than the child’s problem. And it’s alcohol for the most part – it’s off the scale and easily the most devastating.”

n Ely. Albert Cooper, Seventh Judicial District’s juvenile justice administrator, said his district, which includes White Pine, Lincoln and Eureka counties, is as rural as it gets. Cooper’s district has not committed a juvenile to a state facility in three years.

“We see fighting in grade schools rather than gangs and graffiti,” Cooper said. “We don’t have minorities, around here everyone’s a minority.

“Alcohol is our biggest problem – sometimes it’s ‘Do as I say and not what I do’ with the parents. We’re watching things drift this way and hoping it takes a long time to get here.”

n Minden. Scott Cook, juvenile justice administrator for the Ninth Judicial District, said Douglas County sees seasonal ebbs and flows in juvenile cases.

“In winter it’s too cold for kids to do much and there are plenty of jobs in the summer, so that’s when the numbers go down,” Cook said. “It’s just our experience and it doesn’t always hold, but it’s a general pattern we’ve seen.”

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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