Officials look at reasons for area juvenile crime

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 17, 2006

Kids grow up fast these days. And while there are a lot of people in Concordia Parish dedicated to helping keep them out of adult-sized trouble, they say they need more help from home.

&8220;What I feel like the major problem we have to correct is the absolute lack of responsibility of the parents,&8221; Sheriff Randy Maxwell said.

Not that he doesn&8217;t understand the problems parents face.

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&8220;I think being a parent is one of the biggest challenges the good Lord put on our shoulders,&8221; he said.

Drug Court Judge Kathy Johnson sees a lot of the challenges on a daily basis.

&8220;It takes two parents to earn an income, so a lot of parents are working long hours and kids are unsupervised,&8221; Johnson said. &8220;There are no recreation programs, so they&8217;re on their own so much that they think they&8217;re adults.&8221;

Whether in charge of caring for younger siblings or just looking out for themselves, unsupervised children can react badly when rules are suddenly imposed upon them in either the home or in school.

When juveniles cross the line from ill-mannered to illegal, Brenda Harris is one of the people charged with straightening them out.

Harris is the Juvenile Investigator with the Concordia Parish Sheriff&8217;s Office, and she is on the front line of juvenile crime.

She introduced the mother of one of the juveniles she got to know through her work.

&8220;A good kid, got involved with the wrong group,&8221; Harris said. &8220;Started pulling away from mom.&8221;

The mother, Mrs. Smith (not her real name) described her son&8217;s gradual descent into criminality: falling in with a local gang, staying out late and involvement with drugs.

&8220;His attitude changed.&8221;

His first brush with the law was an arrest stemming from a melee at Ferriday High School five years ago. Then there was a drug possession arrest &8212; and a week in jail.

&8220;He was calling home and crying, and I said, &8216;let him sit, let him feel it,&8217;&8221; Harris said.

&8220;I couldn&8217;t go, I told him I couldn&8217;t go see my child in jail,&8221; Smith said.

The light clicked on.

He got a job, graduated high school and is now, at 21, finishing his first year in college.

When he comes home on weekends, Smith said she sees her son talking to the neighborhood children about keeping out of trouble.

Harris said a program she runs in conjunction with the drug court and Vidalia police, called the Think Tank, affords other at-risk kids to spend some time pondering the consequences of future missteps.

&8220;Sometimes that Think Tank will wake some of these kids up,&8221; Harris said.

Not every juvenile is on the way to becoming a career criminal, but the kids themselves say it things have gotten pretty rough.

A group of seniors agreed to talk about what goes on when the parents are away, not that it&8217;s any big secret.

&8220;Parents know, but they pretend they don&8217;t,&8221; Rachel (all student names have been changed) said. &8220;The ones with the worst kids, they pretend they do no wrong.&8221;

The students said there are parents who will abet their weekend drinking, helping to stash the booze at chaperoned dances and stalling police when they come to check up.

&8220;Some of the parents are trying to be friends with their children,&8221; Jenny said.

The students didn&8217;t think drinking on the weekend and a little marijuana &8212; or Xanax or muscle relaxants &8212; was a very big deal, but they did acknowledge it can affect the way the nights end up.

&8220;We&8217;ve got some mean drunks,&8221; Kendrick said. &8220;Anything can trigger a fight.&8221;

Now a fight breaking out at a Saturday night gathering is hardly news, but the days of two people squaring off and trading a couple of punches are gone, everyone agreed.

When a fight breaks out, &8220;people are out there looking for weapons,&8221; Kendrick said.

While beer bottles are the most prevalent weapon, Kendrick remembered seeing someone grab a lead pipe when a brawl broke out. The crowd took that away, he said, but normally anything goes.

Fights among rival school groups are nothing new, Concordia Parish Sheriff Randy Maxwell said, but they have changed.

&8220;When we used to fight, we&8217;d fight and then we&8217;d make up and we&8217;d be happy,&8221; Maxwell said. &8220;Now a days, these kids are fighting to hurt&8230;they get to kicking and stomping and wanting to actually physically maim a person.&8221;

The students agreed with the assessment, saying that what begin as fights often turn into beatings.

&8220;I just get my friends and leave; it&8217;s scary,&8221; Rachel said.

Nobody ever said parenting was easy, but that&8217;s the only way to keep kids out of trouble, all parties agree.

&8220;It&8217;s a real sad day in my life when a parent comes in my office with an 11-year-old and says, &8216;I can&8217;t handle my child, what can you do?&8217;&8221; Maxwell said. &8220;And I say, &8216;you&8217;d better go home and be a parent.&8217;&8221;

&8220;Take your kids to church, take them to activities, spend time with them.&8221;

Harris sees the same parents and has a similar message.

&8220;If you give up, what&8217;s going to happen to your child? This is your child.&8221;