BECKLEY - Studies show an increase in juvenile offenders in the state of West Virginia over the past 10 years. In the first part of our series 'Incarcerating Our Future' we begin by explaining what the root of this problem is.
Children act on what they see around them. Court officials and probation officers said that juvenile offenders often grow up in difficult homes, where they do not have good role models to lead them down the right path. Unfortunately, drugs play a part in this as well.
Government officials as well as those in law enforcement agreed that the root of this problem starts in the home. Chief Juvenile Probation Officer in Raleigh County Tim Erwin, said, "family makeup, dynamics, kids are being raised in environments of either a single parent household or parents in and out of the correctional facility themselves and it's just what they're growing up with in their neighborhoods. They see it and they try to copy that behavior that they see on the streets day in and day out."
Raleigh County Circuit Court Judge John Hutchinson brought up another important point; "a large number of the problems are they don't know how to be parents, they don't know how to be adults themselves so how can they teach kids and how can they appropriately direct and supervise kids?"
"It goes back to basic family functioning, that's where I see the juvenile problem. That's the root in my mind of the juvenile problem. They're not being taught how to behave as so they're emulating that they see. Its lack of appropriate supervision and direction," said Hutchinson.
Another major issue for today’s juvenile offenders are stemming from the increasing drug problem in the state.
Director of WV Division of Juvenile Services, Stephanie Bond, said "some of them grow up in families where substance abuse is a serious problem and then they get involved as well so it just seems to be an endless cycle and we need to work on that as a state and in the individual communities to help the families, the kids, everyone to get off these illegal substances and get the help that they need."
"We have a serious substance abuse problem in this state, with adults as well as juveniles but most of the juveniles that come into our facility have been on illegal substances, most of them have committed their crimes while on these substances, and if not then it could be that they were selling the substances or had them on their person. Drugs are a huge factor in our juveniles being committed into our facilities," said Bond.
Probation officials said they see youth rebelling against their parents and turning against society.
"Minimal as to not listening to their parents, being encourage able to domestic batteries, assaults, running away from home, substance abuse is very prevalent here in Raleigh county and surrounding areas, just your typical crimes, basically that an adult would commit," said Erwin.