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September 5, 2013

County juveniles, parents face challenges

Pella —

With reports of extreme juvenile crimes in Iowa and other states surfacing last week, a closer look was given to juvenile referrals in Marion County. While Knoxville led the number of referrals to the Juvenile Court Officer in 2012 (72 of 229), Knoxville Police Chief Dan Losada said the 2013 numbers show a downward trend in Knoxville. 
“Through July of this year charges have been filed on 27 juveniles,” Losada said. “This compares with 35 being charged in the same time period in 2012 and 55 in 2011.  I do not have an explanation for the dropping numbers.” 
Juvenile Court Officer Kristi Dodson said Marion County typically has an active caseload of 70-90. The office recently expanded to include a second officer, Kyle Johnson. Any crime committed by a person under age 18 is recommended to the office. 
Typically, law enforcement sits down with the child's parents or guardians to explain what they suspect the child did and what they have been charged with. Parents and the juvenile then meet with a juvenile court officer to discuss the crime. According to Dodson, a risk assessment is performed. The juvenile may then be referred for services and treatment. If the court system needs the parents to do something, formal court action must be taken. The office does have a voluntary counseling program available to parents and families.
“There's always a waiting list for that service,” Dodson said. At a given time, she will have at least two families involved with that service. Research has shown that these services aid in keeping the juvenile at home, instead of being taken in to state custody. 
The reasons why juveniles commit crimes can vary. 
They can include lack of parental supervision or  dysfunction in the home. Other, simple explanations exist.
“Sometimes kids just go out and do stupid stuff,” Dodson said. However, when the stupidity rises to a criminal degree, action needs to be taken. Most juveniles who meet Dodson or receive a referral learn from the first incident and do not return. 

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