SIKESTON -- Recently, the Missouri Department of Public Safety announced a decrease in juvenile court referrals for 2000; however, that's not entirely the case in Southeast Missouri.
"Actually, our center has seen a steady increase in court referrals," Michael Davis, chief juvenile officer for the 35th Judicial Circuit of Stoddard and Dunklin counties, said. "In 2000, we had 644 referrals, and in 2001, we had 700."
Bill Lawson, chief juvenile officer for the 33rd Juvenile Circuit of Scott and Mississippi counties, said he hasn't really seen a decrease in the number of juvenile referrals, but in general, he has seen a decrease in the seriousness of crimes in his circuit over the last couple years.
According to the "Missouri 2000 Juvenile Court Annual Report," the number of court referrals decreased from 88,424 in 1999 to 84,910 in 2000, which equals a 4 percent overall decrease. Juvenile referrals reflect the number of allegations of juveniles committing status and law violations or being victims of abuse or neglect, as reported by the Division of Youth Services.
The 33rd Circuit averages between 650 and 800 referrals a year, Lawson said. A 4 percent decrease in Lawson's circuit is only between 25 and 35 referrals. Again, Lawson said the serious index crimes, like rape and robbery, have decreased, but the amount of referrals has remained constant.
"To be honest," Lawson said, "the biggest change I've seen in the last few years is the percentage of female referrals. In 1982, referrals were 80 percent male and 20 percent female. Now, it's about 60 percent male and 40 percent female."
Most of the females have committed the average juvenile crimes for males and females. The average crimes for juveniles in Scott and Mississippi counties are alcohol and drug usage, stealing and fighting, he said.
Like Scott and Mississippi counties, the statewide number of certifications, or juveniles sent from juvenile court to an adult court due to the severity of the alleged crime committed, has also declined. Missouri DPS reports 391 certifications in 1996 and 188 in 2000.
"This is a result of agencies, families and communities working together to deal with juvenile crime issues," Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Charles Jackson said in a recent statement. "Participation through partnerships, such as grant programs, volunteerism and other community-oriented service avenues is a key in creating better, safer communities."
For the current statewide decrease in referrals, Davis also credits community-based programs and funding from the Missouri DPS. The state DPS helps fund a variety of programs for juvenile centers.
"A lot of our mental health and substance abuse programs are funded through grants from DPS," Davis said. "Our daily treatment, education and electronic monitoring programs are funded by DPS, too."
Lawson said he knows that without state or federal assistance, juvenile facilities wouldn't have some of their community-based programs. Counties might have the extra money, but they'd use it for things like cleaning out ditches or building bridges. Community-based programs are just something that are not high on any county's list, he explained.
Scott and Mississippi counties have the Weed and Seed Program, and they participate in restitution, too. In November 2001, juveniles performed 1,391 acts of community services in the counties, Lawson said.
The Missouri Department of Public Safety currently has 94 juvenile justice and delinquency prevention grants totaling $6,465,700, which serve 7,756 youths throughout the state of Missouri.
Lawson said: "It's true that federal and state funding helps the government look good economically, but it also helps the kids get the service they need."