FOP President: Juvenile justice in Louisville 'a joke' - News, Weather & Sports

FOP President: Juvenile justice in Louisville 'a joke'

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Rape, assault and robbery. Louisville teenagers are being charged with those crimes and more only to be let back out onto the street hours later.

In April, the governor signed sweeping reforms into law aimed at keeping juveniles out of detention centers for less serious crimes, but Juvenile Justice Court Judge Dee McDonald said that is something they have been doing in Jefferson County for years.

Now, in the wake of Louisville's mob violence in March, the head of the police officers union is speaking out. He says the problem isn't that we're locking juveniles up too much, it's that we're not locking them up enough.

[VIEW: Crimes juveniles are being released and detailed for]

It was the security camera video that brought the juvenile justice debate into focus. On the night of March 22, 2014, roving teenage gangs terrorized people in downtown Louisville. The mob was estimated at 200 people. Criminal incidents totaled more than 20. There were only seven arrests.

"We have officers that are demoralized and frustrated because they feel there is nothing they can do," said Dave Mutchler, president of the River City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 614.

Why not? Here's what Mutchler told the Metro Council public safety committee a few days after the mob violence: "The juvenile justice system, and I have no other way to put it to you, it's a joke."

So what has Mutchler and other officers so upset? A data analysis on 9,468 juvenile arrests since 2011 reveals juveniles were processed and released without seeing the inside of a jail cell 83 percent of the time. That included teens facing charges for rape, felony assault, robbery, prostitution, trafficking drugs near a school, and guns.

"There are juveniles out on the street that have very recently committed serious crimes, and right now they're out with the ability to do it again right now," Mutchler said. "At some point, that's ridiculous."

Judge McDonald defends the current system.

"Treatment is the priority," said McDonald, "not detention."

Court workers fill out risk assessment forms when juveniles are brought to the youth detention center to determine whether they are detained or released to a parent, guardian, or emergency shelter such as a YMCA Safe Place.

"Part of what I look for is, are these children going to reoffend, are they going to be a danger to the community and are they going to come back to court?" McDonald said.

Some juveniles are never even brought to the detention center to begin with. The data analysis revealed that in many cases, police who arrest youth offenders end up releasing them outright. That's a result, Mutchler says, of department and corrections policy.

"It's extremely frustrating," Mutchler said.

"I'm sure they are frustrated in many ways," McDonald said, "but our system is set up through the juvenile code and the court must follow that."

In 2011, McDonald said, judges, prosecutors, and the head of the youth detention center decided to further reduce the number of juveniles they lock up by making release mandatory for anything but felonies and serious misdemeanors. Through April 23, 2014, the number of juveniles detained after an arrest was down to 14 percent.

"I think as long as they are monitored with the systems we have in place, very few of them reoffend," McDonald said.

Still, Mutchler said what happened on that now infamous night in March should serve as a wake up call.

"Some juveniles are bad," Mutchler said. "They're not good kids. They weren't just turning their life around. They've already gotten so far into the criminal culture that something different has to be done."

The two sides differ on the solution. Police want tougher laws and with more jail time for juveniles facing serious crimes, especially violent offenses. People like Judge McDonald say spending money on locking kids up is a waste - and the investment needs to be in additional treatment and services in the home, as well as programs to keep kids occupied and out of trouble.

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