Juvenile Crime Dips in Iowa
By Sam Lane, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Juvenile crime is down in Iowa and officials are crediting research and justice system alternatives.
Earlier this week, the Iowa Department of Human Rights’ Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning released a report, showing a more than 20 percent decrease in juvenile arrests between 2007 and 2010. Juveniles also made up a decreasing percentage of the state’s total arrests during those years.
But beyond the statewide figures, Eastern Iowa seems to be in even better shape.
“Juvenile crime is falling through the country, but in Linn County and in the 6th Judicial District in particular,” said Candice Bennett, the chief juvenile officer for the district. “We’re fortunate in that we have juvenile court offices engaging in practices that have significantly decreased juvenile delinquency acts … We should be proud of that.”
In Cedar Rapids, the number of juvenile arrests decreased each year between 2007 and 2010. Additionally, the average daily population at the Linn County Juvenile Detention Center dropped sharply from 22.27 in fiscal 2008 to 14.38 in fiscal 2009. In each year since then, the average daily population hasn’t been higher than 18.
“For years, the numbers gradually increased,” said Peg Pangborn, the director of Linn County’s Juvenile Detention and Diversion Services.
“We truly thought we were going to have to expand,” Pangborn said. “But after a push for alternative programs and taking a harder look at what kids are actually admitted, our numbers have gone down.”
Beginning in 2007, Pangborn said officials performed research and determined only those who pose a high risk should be held in juvenile detention. Since then, the county has developed alternative programs that allow kids to stay in their communities under supervision rather than removing them from society and keeping them from their families.
“There’s a huge push to keep kids out of the justice system,” she said. “I really agree with that.”
But the push starts before a juvenile even has a chance to commit a crime.
John Tursi, the executive director of Boys and Girls Club of Cedar Rapids, said his organization has experienced an increase in the number of kids attending its afterschool and youth programs.
“I think (the decrease in crime) tells us a lot more kids are getting involved in activities keeping them out of trouble,” Tursi said. “Parents are looking for opportunities to take their kids off the streets and get their kids in a better place.”
Shari Miller oversees programs at Children of Promise, an organization operated by the 6th Judicial District’s nonprofit Community Corrections Improvement Association that identifies risk factors that cause some eastern Iowa youth to follow their parents into the correctional system.
Miller said she often talks to young men, asking what they’d be doing if they weren’t involved in one of the programs.
“They say, ‘I would be out with buddies and I’d probably be getting into trouble.’ “ she said. “That’s what happens when they have time on their hands.”
Despite declines in arrests in Cedar Rapids, the numbers have increased slightly in recent years in Iowa City. According to data from the Police Department there, the number of juvenile arrests rose from 453 in 2007 to 533 in 2010.
But Iowa City police spokeswoman Denise Brotherton said she wouldn’t call the increase a “spike,” instead saying she considers the numbers fairly consistent. Brotherton even cited a different set of statistics — the number of charges referred to criminal court — in explaining a slight decrease in juvenile crime.
She said most juvenile crimes come from an officer responding to a call from a victim, whether it’s a store that experienced a shoplifter or a school having trouble with a kid.
“It’s not about punishment, but it’s about working with them. You say, ‘Well, why don’t you just not charge them?’ Well, if they don’t get referred to juvenile court, they don’t get the programs and benefits they need so they don’t continue making poor choices and destructive behavior.”
Fluctuations in juvenile crime appear common and challenges are constantly present. According to judicial figures, the state’s juvenile justice system experienced nearly 30 percent funding cuts between state fiscal years 1999 and 2012. Bennett said a lack of funding causes reductions in officers and, therefore, makes it more difficult for authorities to keep kids in their homes.
“I’ve looked at juvenile crime historically and it goes up until it stops going up, then goes down until it stops going down,” said Bennett, who has worked in the 6th district since 1999. “No one has ever been able to figure out why. The goal is to do everything we can to have it stop going up.”
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