More teens in jail being charged as adults
When authorities charged 16-year-old Cody Lee Long with the fatal stabbing of his stepfather, it wasn’t the teen’s first brush with the law.
He had a history of domestic violence with his little brother that was handled through the juvenile court system, according to court testimony.The alleged murder happened when Cody was 16, however, allowing for him to be charged as an adult. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
There were at least 10 other teens in Coffee, Dale, Geneva and Houston counties charged as adults this year because of a more than decade-old state law that set that precedent for any teen committing a capital offense or a felony whileusing a deadly weapon.
While juvenile criminal records are sealed, those records are often admissible for the prosecution during court hearings against teens.
Often in those hearings it is shown that a child charged as an adult was charged several times for other offenses as a juvenile.
According to Tammy Brannon, chief juvenile probation officer in Dale County, the juvenile court system serves asrehabilitation, not punishment.
“We are required to work with juveniles to keep them out of diversion centers and exhaust all interventions before resorting to incarceration,” she said in an e-mail.
"Many times these juveniles have been through multiple interventions through the juvenile court over a period of time, and then there are other times when a juvenile has not been that extensivelyinvolved in juvenile court and will commit a crime that can become an adult charge.”
Brannon said children as young as 12 can be entered into juvenile court services and remain in the system until age 18.
Some minor charges they could face stem from domestic-related issues like running away, harassment and violence, or third-degree burglary and criminal mischief.
Some more severe charges that canfall under the juvenile court system if committed by a teen are first-degree rape, criminal mischief, theft of property, possession of marijuana and sexual abuse, according to Brannon.
Felony discipline in the juvenile court system could involve serving time in the Southeast Alabama Juvenile Diversion Center.
Steps taken before the diversion center include programs called Juvenile Redirectionand Juvenile Conference Committee, according to Brannon.
No statistics were provided to show the effectiveness of any of the programs, but Brannon said a community service aspect of each program often teaches the teens valuable lessons.
Group homes that allow the child to stay in an environment away from family are an option, while family intervention programs that target help for the entirefamily — like the Ozark-Dale County Family Services Center — can also help.
Cheryl Leatherwood, a special programs manager for the Administrative Office of Courts, said hopes are that a recently-funded juvenile drug court in Dale County can attack the basis of a problem that causes teens to commit other crimes.
Law enforcement officials have said drug use is often the premise for violent crime.
“Ourjuvenile probation officers carry a heavy case load that prohibits them from giving each child and family the individual attention they need to begin to make changes in their lives,” Leatherwood said.
“This program and these funds will assist them by bringing in other professionals who will assist with drug and alcohol addiction and mental health issues that often lead to substance abuse.”
Butonce a teen is charged as an adult, the juvenile intervention programs are often not available to them at that point.
The teen is placed in the county jail until he or she either bonds out or until the case is disposed.
And in many cases, teens miss time in school when facing adult charges. Travis Marshall, a 16-year-old who was charged along with several others in an Ozark home invasion, was...