If we want less crime in five, 10 or 15 years from now, then we ought to focus today on preventing kids from becoming criminals.

Unfortunately, Del Norte County significantly lacks the services necessary to keep many teenagers and youth from repeating their crimes, according to the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Commission's first annual report. Specifically, the county is woeful in providing juvenile drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. andquot;While we have a significant education and prevention effort in our community we have only a few agencies providing direct drug and alcohol intervention services (counseling and rehabilitation),andquot; the commission's report says.

Yet, alcohol and drugs play a significant role in juvenile crime. Of the 385 juveniles who committed a crime in Del Norte County last year, half of them were involved with alcohol and drugs at the time. While alcohol and drugs do not cause the crime, they do embolden youth to commit crimes, either because they are intoxicated or high or because they need money to support their habit.

Getting these offenders to break their habits is vital. Kids who remain addicted to booze and drugs very likely will commit more crimes despite going through the juvenile justice system. Eventually these experienced criminals become adults. The result is more crime that affects our homes and businesses, overburdens law enforcement agencies and overcrowds jails and prisons.

The commission's report recommends beefing up alcohol and drug rehabilitation for juveniles, an action county officials would have to take. With the county's proclamation of 2007 as andquot;The Year of the Child,andquot; it's an appropriate time to implement those recommendations.

Reducing juvenile alcohol and drug addiction won't end crime, of course, but it can significantly reduce it in the long run. We can either pay a little now to get kids' lives back on track or pay more after after our homes have been burglarized, our business' windows have been smashed and our cars have been jacked. Given that, we'd rather pay now.