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 José 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.