By Nicholas Grube
Triplicate staff writer
Del Norte County significantly lacks juvenile drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, according to a recent report released by the county's Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission.
This means youth who need help fighting substance abuse particularly in the justice system cannot receive the proper treatment needed for recovery, increasing their chances of recidivating and becoming stuck in the system as an adult.
"Basically, the commission decided to investigate the issue of drug and alcohol abuse with the notion that it was behind a lot of the legal charges brought against juveniles," said John Murphy, who is on the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission. "Based on the number of kids being charged for drug and alcohol use, there's a need for juvenile services."
According to the commission's report, which was released May 24, nearly 50 percent of all juvenile violations in Del Norte County last year involved drugs or alcohol. And the rate of juveniles arrested for drug and alcohol offenses is 50 percent higher than the California average, meaning that for every 10 youths arrested on drug and alcohol charges in other counties, law enforcement in Del Norte arrests 15 for the same charges.
However, according to the report, adolescent admission into drug and alcohol treatment programs is less than one-tenth of the statewide average.
"If the services aren't available to change the behavior, the behavior continues," Murphy said. "We'll continue to see a significant portion of the kids falling through the cracks leaving school and getting sucked into the justice system. And when they return as adults, they're having the same issues."
Del Norte Superior Court Judge Robert Weir has been wearing the judicial robes in this county since 1983, and in 1988, he became the judge of the juvenile court. Since that time, he said he's seen many familiar faces come through his courtroom.
"People from the juvenile system, many of them graduate into the adult system," Weir said, adding that it is not uncommon.
"I think that drugs are a very substantial factor in juvenile crime," he said. "Principally, I think it's the methamphetamine, marijuana and alcohol."
Weir said once juveniles are involved in drugs and alcohol, they start becoming addicted and that it's hard to bring someone back from that reliance, especially with the lack of treatment programs.
"Once that lifestyle kicks in, it's very difficult to divert someone from that lifestyle," Weir said. "I think the earlier you can intervene and head it off, the better chance you have at success."
But he said many of Del Norte County's youth don't have that option for treatment until it is too late.
"They're sitting there like a ticking time bomb. There's no resources for kids that can get into trouble (but haven't yet)...to head them off from a critical offense," he said.
Tom Crowell, an assistant chief probation officer for the county who works at Del Norte County Juvenile Hall, said even the kids who do have access to court-ordered resources have difficulty getting effective treatment for their drug and alcohol addictions.
"I would say that 90 percent of our kids booked in here have a significant drug or alcohol problem. There are very few that don't," Crowell said.
He said many of the youths receive treatment while in the juvenile detention center, but once they are released and on probation, it is hard to find services they are eligible for.
"We have a lot more services to offer to (incarcerated youth) than to outpatient juveniles in the community," he said, which makes the kids on probation more likely to slip-up and re-offend.
"The same kids come in, and a lot of the time it's (for) the same offenses drug related offenses," he said.
"It's a tough situation we have here," Crowell said. "A lot of the crimes committed in our community...often times they're alcohol related, drug related. It impacts all of us in the community because it is so small...These are our neighbors."
Murphy said that he hopes the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission's report will encourage dialogue within the community and through all sects of government in order to come up with a solution to the lack of treatment options.
"If there's no rehabilitation, you're just going to have the recidivism that's endemic to the problem," Murphy said.
"Hopefully the cycle can be broken...you got to try," he said. "We can't ignore it and have the same kids caught up in the system and have the same adults caught up in the same system."