Area youth crime statistics do not follow conventional wisdom

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Natchez Democrat

The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — Conventional wisdom says idle, unsupervised hands are the devil’s workshop, but teens with nothing to do over the summer apparently don’t lead to an increase in teen crime.

In fact, just the opposite is true.

The Natchez Democrat

The Natchez Democrat

The number of Natchez and Adams County teens being arrested in summer months is some of the lowest all year for the two most recent years. That’s because teens actually commit fewer crimes when they are out of school and dispersed throughout the community, Adams County Youth Court Judge John Hudson said.

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“Crime is going to go down when there’s not 1,000 kids together within 100 yards of each other for eight hours a day where bad things can happen,” Hudson said. “It’s always down in the summer and though people would think crime would go up, in fact it doesn’t.”

By the numbers

Last year, the Natchez Police Department and the Adams County Sheriff’s Office arrested 227 teens ages 13 to 17 for a variety of crimes including shoplifting, burglary and robbery, among others.

Of those 227 arrests, 15 occurred in June, 8 in July and 12 in August.

The month with the highest arrests in 2012 was April with 37 arrests.

In 2011, 226 teens were arrested — 15 in June, 11 in July and 24 in August.

August and February saw the most arrests of the year with 24.

“For the most part, we don’t see a dramatic rise in the summer — just some more petty stuff,” Sheriff Chuck Mayfield said. “I think it does increase some when the kids are out of school, but it’s mostly malicious mischief-type things they’re committing out of boredom.”

When a teen gets arrested in Natchez, they are generally referred to youth court. Some offenses, which would be treated as crimes if committed by adults, are known as delinquent acts when they involve juveniles. Those include, for example, any crimes in which a firearm is involved, Hudson said. Juveniles involved in those crimes are automatically tried in the court system as an adult.

Information provided by the Mississippi Department of Human Services’ Division of Youth Services shows annual statistics — not month by month breakdowns — and includes juveniles ages 11 to 19.

Those numbers show a total of 320 juvenile offenses committed in 2012 in Adams County — a decrease of 280 offenses from the 600 committed in 2000.

“The reality is the numbers are coming down and have been coming down for the last two decades,” Hudson said. “You’ll always hear parents say it’s worse now then when they were growing up, but I can take you back one generation and, criminally, they’re a lot worse than they are now.”

Hudson said that while the data provided by the state does not show offenses per month, he continually sees a decrease in youth court cases during the summer months.

“From the court perspective, our lowest activity months are July, August and September,” Hudson said. ““When school starts, our statistics go up.”

School’s in session

Hudson said the youth court receives the most referrals from incidences that occur at school.

Natchez-Adams School District Safety and Security Supervisor Ray Brown said offenses committed at school are categorized from class 1, which would include classroom disruption, to class 6, which includes anything with a weapon.

“If there’s any criminal aspect to what a student has done, we contact the police or the sheriff’s department immediately,” Brown said. “If it’s a disturbance or something like that, we’ll handle that within the school.

“Either way, a parent will be contacted and informed about the student’s actions.”

The punishment a student receives, Brown said, depends on the class of the offense.

“Out-of-school suspensions or expulsions are for the more serious things, and in-school suspensions are for the others,” Brown said. “We try to keep the kids in school as much as possible, but there are certain violations where they can’t be at school anymore.”

This year at Natchez High School, a total of 1,585 out-of-school suspensions were issued, and 3,124 in-school suspensions were issued.

Brown said those numbers can be somewhat misleading because they don’t take into account the number of students receiving the suspensions, but instead the overall number issued.

“A lot of those are repeats from the same students over and over,” Brown said.

Brown, who worked with the Adams County Sheriff’s office for 16 years and has been with the NASD since 2005, said he believes teens commit more crimes during the summer months.

“When the kids are at school and parents are at work, we have less crime,” he said. “When the parents are going to work and the children don’t have someone at home, they’re going to get into trouble.

“School helps out in many ways that’s not just educating children — it keeps them occupied.”

Hudson said the school setting can sometimes add fuel to the fire simply because it’s a common gathering place for juveniles.

“During the school year, they’re all together in one building all the time, so when they’re dispersed everywhere it becomes more difficult for them to get into trouble,” Hudson said. “The truth is, you could have a pretty serious fight in the community that the police may never hear about, but that fight at school we’ll hear about.”

What’s the solution?

Regardless of when teens commit crime the solutions are simple, yet complex.

“The only thing we can do is basically try to talk to parents and tell them to keep their kids preoccupied and be more involved with them,” Natchez Police Chief Danny White said. “Because when they hang out to all hours of the night, they’re going to get into trouble.”

Hudson said the solution won’t come from just law enforcement or court officials, however, but instead will take the entire community.

“You have to make an individual connection with these kids and connect them to society so society matters to them,” Hudson said. “The courts and police are all tools, but crime happens in juveniles when there’s a disconnect to everything around him and when that juvenile doesn’t think he’s ever going to be a member of society.”

Hudson said intensive support programs through the courts such as the Adolescent Opportunity Program are critical to making that connection with juveniles.

The AOP allows youth offenders who agree to enter the program the opportunity to keep a clean record if they enter intensive therapy and probation programs.

The three-tiered AOP system starts with four days a week, two-hour therapy sessions and gradually works down to once-a-week, one-hour sessions at which the teens are taught coping, anger management and relapse prevention skills.

“Connecting those kids to the fact that society and the community should mean something to them and that they can succeed in them is crucial,” Hudson said. “What does that juvenile care if he doesn’t think he’s ever going to be a member of society?”