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The number of young offenders behind bars drops

The number of young offenders behind bars drops

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Statistics compiled by the Colorado Springs Police Department show the number of crimes committed by young people in Colorado Springs has declined in recent years.

KRDO NewsChannel 13 analyzed CSPD's annual crime reports dating back to 2005. The number of reported incidents dropped from 4,790 to 4,565 incidents between 2005 and 2006. From 2006 to 2008, juvenile crime increased by about 100 incidents per year.

In 2008, the numbers started to drop. In 2008, there were 4,811 crimes committed by juveniles. By 2011, that number was down to 3,391.

KRDO NewsChannel 13 also analyzed the "top eight" crimes -- homicide, negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, theft of a motor vehicle and arson. The number of crimes committed by juveniles in the "top eight" category has dropped every year since 2008.

"Overall, what we're seeing system-wide in the state of Colorado and what is also a national trend is a decline in youth coming into the system," said Vince Guerrero.

Guerrero is the director of Spring Creek Youth Services. It's a correctional facility for young offenders in Southern Colorado. It was built to hold 100 inmates in separate cells.

It shut down one wing of its facility recently, reducing the number of beds available to 80.

"It's not cost-effective to fund those beds when there isn't a need for it," said Guerrero.

"Senate Bill 94 was initially started 21 years ago. At the time, the legislature was looking at the projected growth of lock/secure kids coming into the system," said Guerrero. "They realized if projections continued, it would be extremely expensive to build even more facilities."

Senate Bill 94 started a movement to steer young offenders into alternative programs if there wasn't a need to lock them behind bars.

"I think the system is getting better as a whole at identifying some of these alternatives to lock/secure detention because we found kids are more successful if we can divert them away," said Guerrero.

Guerrero credited Senate Bill 94 for making all groups working with juvenile delinquents re-evaluate their approach.

Magistrate Jeffrey Saufley has presided over juvenile cases in El Paso County for seven years.

"I don't think, overall, kids have gotten worse or bolder or more serious in the types of offenses they are committing," said Saufley.

Saufley gathered statistics for juvenile court cases since 2010. The number of juvenile delinquent cases coming through El Paso County court system has dropped every year.  Saufley said the most common cases he sees in his courtroom are burglaries. Statistics show burglaries are decreasing too.

Saufley credits several initiatives in recent years for the reduction in numbers.

He said schools are doing a better job of handling offenses commited on their property instead of automatically calling police.

He also agreed with Guerrero that programs geared toward keeping young people out of court and behind bars is keeping crime rates low. 

"There has been a move over the last few years to move from criminalizing the juvenile's behavior to restorative justice-type programs and diversion-type programs," said Saufley.

Colorado Springs Teen court is a diversion program for young offenders. The program is geared for first- or second-time offenders charged with misdemeanor crimes.

"[The young offender] has to sit in front of a peer panel and that peer panel is teenagers their age who volunteer with us," said Teen Court Executive Director Pat Ruffini. "They listen to their story and they talk to their parents and everyone works together to come up with a decision to help change the direction this person is in."

One in 25 young offenders who go through Teen Court re-offends. One-fourth of Teen Court's peer panel is former offenders.

"They are the most ardent changers of the next kid," said Ruffini. "They don't want the next one to get in trouble like they did. They can't be easily fooled. If they're not sorry, they can tell."

Guerrero and Ruffini are working for a common goal -- fewer young people behind bars.

"We're trying to make the community safe and help youth that come in contact with us get more successful," said Guerrero.

Guerrero said when it comes to people working with juvenile offenders, everyone is trying to work themselves out of a job.

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