Warwick Police Chief Stephen McCartney said, “I am gratified to see we are heading in the right direction,” concerning a new report showing Warwick is above the national percentage in the reduction of delinquents in the juvenile system.
KIDS COUNT, a child advocacy organization, released Monday an issue brief, “Juvenile Justice in the state of Rhode Island,” with data on the local juvenile system, where delinquents are coming from, their circumstances on detention and other data. From 1995 to 2011 the state juvenile arrest rate fell 56 percent. Since 2004, the number of delinquents serving time at the Rhode Island Training School (RITS) went from 1,069 to 498 in 2013. Currently there are 82 youths (78 males and four females) at RITS.
Rhode Island is above the national decline of juvenile arrests, which has decreased 52 percent since 1995. In Warwick alone, the number of charges in custody of RITS went down 54 percent, from 37 youths in 2009 to 17 this past year.
“But credit can’t be given solely to the police department,” McCartney said.
Although the police try to combat juvenile delinquency with the Warwick PAL program with 800 to 1,200 participants; Explorer Program; leadership camps throughout the summer; and School Resource Officer at the high schools, there are many other community services trying to help the city’s youth. McCartney said a lot of the credit should go to the Juvenile Hearing Board that has put in policies to fight juvenile delinquencies and demands accountability. He commended schools for keeping kids occupied with athletics and extracurricular activities.
Mayor Scott Avedisian agreed, saying, "The success of our juvenile hearing board, truancy court, and youth sports programs are reasons that we see a drop in juvenile crime statistics. The fact that so much work is done to keep young people engaged in school, in their community, and to bring appropriate interventions to families has long been a hallmark of my administration.”
Warwick’s decline is much greater than other big cities in the state. Cranston’s rate has decreased 19 percent, Johnston’s rate has not decreased, although their number of delinquents for last year, eight, is still lower than Warwick’s 17 or Cranston’s 29. The city of Providence still, even with a 46 percent decrease in juveniles in RITS, has the highest amount throughout the state at 183.
McCartney said, “In Warwick we have great families. Parents show interest in their children’s futures. And it is all the community components, so invested in the youth’s future, that set Warwick up for success.”
Elizabeth Burke Bryant, the executive director at KIDS COUNT, said community ties help the youth greatly in preventing youth from interaction with the juvenile system.
She said, “There has been a big national push in prevention and intervention and especially here in Rhode Island. They are examining what the youth needs to be successful. We have people working every day in this state, caring adults that are trying to help the youth of Rhode Island keep a positive outlook on their futures.”
Bryant explained that many of the children in RITS come from lower income families and can be predisposed to substance abuse, mental health issues, and physical, mental or sexual abuse, but don’t have the means to reach out to the services or professionals they need.
“At the first signs of difficulty with a child,” Bryant said, “lines of communication have to be opened. There needs to be a support network set up for that child to get them back on track. Parents, family, teachers, mentors and coaches are all great resources for keeping kids on track.”
She mentioned that because the mental health and substance abuse taboo is starting to deteriorate, children are receiving access to help rather than having the issue swept under the rug until it escalates to the point where a child may come under the Juvenile Hearing Board.
She said, “In our nation and in our state, the stigma is decreasing, but we still do not have enough services for everyone who needs them.”
The juvenile system has also reformed over the years to involve programs that instead of incarceration, children work in family or community-based service programs to reintegrate. The Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) partnered with R.I. and coordinated by KIDS COUNT in 2009, put in place policies through which the justice system attempts to reduce “unnecessary and inappropriate” incarceration in secure detention centers.
Bryant said, “JDAI has great people from throughout the system partner together to look at the issue of juvenile delinquency and decide what really requires detention and what can be better solved outside with probation, therapy or rehabilitation.”
KIDS COUNT hopes to see juvenile delinquency to continue to decline and hope that their new issue brief, which can be found online at rikidscount.org, will help continue to benefit children by giving data to cities and departments alike.