Juvenile Prosecution is an essential component of our justice system, and the James T. Strickland Youth Center is where it takes place. The efforts of the employees and Assistant District Attorneys at Strickland Youth Center contribute to the rehabilitation, punishment, deterrence, and housing of juvenile offenders. They also ensure that our community is protected and that juvenile delinquents are held accountable for their actions. Anyone under the age of 18 is considered a juvenile. Their offenses can range from misdemeanors to Class A felonies such as arson, rape, and even murder.
The process begins when a juvenile is arrested for a crime and transferred to Strickland Youth Center. After intake, one of two things can occur. First, juveniles are never given bonds they are either detained or released dependent upon supervision status, threats to the child, threats to the community, or the seriousness of the current charge. Juveniles who commit status offenses such as runaways and underage use of alcohol are typically released to a parent or a legal guardian. These transgressions are noncriminal acts but are still considered a breach of the law.
If the offender is 12 years old or younger, and the crime committed is less than a Class A Felony, the child is released to the parents until the preliminary hearing. The law for this states, “Children 10 years of age and younger shall not be detained or confined in secure custody, unless the children are charged with offenses causing death or serious bodily injury to persons or offenses that would be classified as Class A felonies if committed by adults. Children 11 or 12 years of age may only be detained or confined in secure custody by orders of juvenile courts, unless the children are charged with offenses causing death or serious bodily injury to persons or offenses that would be classified as Class A felonies if committed by adults.”
Certain offenses can be handled informally through the intake office. This allows the offender to avoid the official court process and saves the parents time and money as well.
A youth can be detained at Strickland Youth Center depending on the severity of the offense and if they have a preexisting record. If they are detained they must have a preliminary hearing within 72 hours of arrival. A preliminary hearing for a juvenile is equivalent to an arraignment in adult court. Any crime can be handled at the prelim level.
Once a case reaches the preliminary hearing stage , our Assistant District Attorneys Theresa Harrison and Katriesa Crummie get involved. There are some major differences between juvenile court and adult court pertaining to trials. Trials in Juvenile Court are referred to as adjudication hearings. During an adjudication hearing, the State can rely on co-defendant testimony alone if corroborated by other evidence. The ADAs still must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the child has committed the offense charged. There is no lesser burden of proof because the defendant is a minor. Juveniles are not “convicted” of crimes, they are found delinquent of the charge. This means that prior adjudications cannot be enhanced based upon subsequent cases. This does not mean that their juvenile record carries no weight.
Another difference is that there is no jury. Typically the prosecutors will ask for a certain punishment depending on the crime. It is then up to the judge, after hearing all the evidence, to decide what is in the best interest of the child and the community.
If the court finds a juvenile delinquent during the adjudication hearing a dispositional hearing is the next step. A dispositional hearing is when the court determines how best to meet the needs of the child. Probation, Department of Youth Services, consent decrees, restitution, community service, and Foster Care placement are all viable options. This is one of the most important elements of the system because it allows the court to sentence the defendants to rehabilitative programs like Gun Court, counseling, psychiatric support, and drug or alcohol treatment. Rehabilitation is the number one concern for juvenile prosecutors and the rest of the staff at Strickland Youth Center. They want to make sure that these children’s lives are turned around before they become adult criminals.
One of the rehabilitating programs offered at Strickland Youth Center is The Gun Program. This program is meant for youths that have been found delinquent of crimes involving the illegal use or carrying of firearms. During the five week program, either ADA Harris or ADA Crummie host one of the session that gives an overview of gun crimes, the deadly repercussions of these crimes, and the significance this has for the community. They want these children to understand that firearms are not toys and that all guns should be considered dangerous. They also provide ways to prevent juvenile gun violence and discuss the consequences of having a gun as a minor.
Serious juvenile offenders can be handle differently than a child who participates in a minor infraction. To be considered a serious juvenile offender they must be adjudicated for a number of serious felony offenses or one class A Felony. A serious Juvenile Offender is sentenced to a minimum of one year with the Department of Youth Services.
In some serious cases a prosecutor can request what is called a Motion to Transfer. This allows the defendant to be prosecuted as an adult. Motions to Transfer must be filed by the prosecutor before a juvenile admits the charge. Once the defendant admits the charge then a transfer motion is no longer an option. The defendant must be at least 14 years of age and charged with a felony offense. Sometimes a defendant may receive an automatic transfer. They will be charged as an adult if they are 16 years or older and accused of capital offenses, Class A felonies, felonies which involve the use of a deadly weapon, and felonies causing serious physical injury or death. Since 2012 eighty-eight cases have been transferred. It is very important that juvenile offenders understand the severity of having an adult record. Once a case has been transferred and found guilty, they will be charged as an adult for any subsequent offenses.
Overall the juvenile justice system is put in to place to ensure the safety of our youth and the well being of our community. Our prosecutors work hand in hand with many youth-serving agencies to ensure that these children have a chance to be rehabilitated before they reach an age where their mistakes will have long-term consequences.