Pubdate: Wed, 05 Apr 2006
Source: Tucson Citizen (AZ)
Copyright: 2006 Tucson Citizen
Author: Sheryl  Kornman


Two Tucson neighborhoods whose kids get caught in the juvenile 
justice system at a disproportionate rate are the focus of an effort 
by court officials to reverse the trend.

The "A" Mountain and Sunnyside neighborhoods have the highest number 
of youths referred to Pima County Juvenile Court and a higher number 
of Hispanics, Indians and blacks in the county's juvenile system than 
other Tucson-area neighborhoods, Presiding Juvenile Court Judge 
Patricia Escher said. "It's a little unnerving," she said. "We don't 
have all the alternatives in place in the community. That's what 
we're working on now."

Nearly 10,000 delinquent juveniles are referred to Juvenile Court 
each year, according to court statistics. Escher did not have data on 
the number of juvenile arrests from the "A" Mountain and Sunnyside 
neighborhoods, but she said reports are pending.

The court's Children and Family Services Division is working to place 
more of the youths with relatives, a family friend or a neighbor 
instead of a group home or a shelter when the parents aren't capable 
of providing adequate care or supervision.

Escher said the offenses of the youths in the two neighborhoods are 
generally minor. The youths are picked up for marijuana or 
methamphetamine use, for family fights and property crimes. Truancy 
and curfew violations are also a problem, Escher said.

Some youths remain in county detention longer than they should 
because of a parent's drug or alcohol addiction and limited 
education, poverty or homelessness, the judge said. The court has 
jurisdiction over children ages 8 to 17 and the average length of 
stay in the detention center is 14 days. Escher and Rik Schmidt, 
director of Pima County Juvenile Court Services, have met with the 
"A" Mountain and Sunnyside neighborhood associations to identify 
resources for youths in the at-risk neighborhoods.

City Council members Jose Ibarra and Steve Leal, who represent the 
neighborhoods, are also involved in the effort.

"Right now it's in the early stages," said Ken Green, "A" Mountain 
Neighborhood Association president. "I'm happy that this is in the 
works." Green said he has a 15-year-old and a 9-year-old and he is 
eager "to put the effort into this, to stop this disparity. We will 
work with the court any way we can."

Although the neighborhood is racially mixed, more than half the 
youths in the "A" Mountain neighborhood are Hispanic, he said. Green 
said a key resource to help troubled kids may be neighborhood 
churches that could mentor some of these youths.

Training aimed at developing ways to provide "a permanent family for 
every child" is set for Friday at the Doubletree Hotel at Reid Park. 
It's for judges, attorneys, probation officers, foster parents, 
adoptive families and others. The local sponsor is the Community 
Partnership of Southern Arizona, the state-licensed regional 
behavioral health agency, said Escher, who met with the Tucson 
Citizen Editorial Board yesterday.

For more information on the effort to reduce the number of minorities 
in the juvenile court system, call the program's coordinator, Marcia 
Rincon-Gallardo at the Pima County Juvenile Court Center, 740-4542.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman