How juvenile offenders end up in detention or stay in the community

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - When some people think of juvenile justice, they think of a revolving door that allows kids to stay in the community after they've been arrested for breaking the law,

"The juveniles are not being held accountable for their crimes is a major issue in Mecklenburg County," said Marcus Philemon of CharMeck Court Watch.

But juvenile advocates say there's a system in place that holds kids accountable for their actions while getting help they need.

"Show me how locking up kids improves outcomes for kids," said Colleen Mullan, of Council for Children's Rights."Don't you want a community where you have these kids go through the system and end up better on the other side of it. You're not teaching kids to be incarcerated. You're not keeping kids away from their families. You're not taking them out of school. They're not getting any services while they're in detention."

When juveniles are arrested for breaking the law, not a lot of them are held in detention centers.

Mullan, Director of Children's Defense at the Council for Children's Rights, says "in most situations when kids go to detention they have to meet the statutory criteria to be able to go to detention. So in order for that to happen a juvenile court counselor - like a probation officer - they fill out paper work, it gets submitted to a judge to say hey judge I believe that this child has committed serious crime and I believe the best place for this child right now is secure custody which is placing them in detention."

According to Mullan, "the judge signs off and that order gets given to law enforcement and gives law enforcement permission to then detain that child and bring them to a detention center."

State law governing juvenile crimes says a child under 15 years old can be held in detention center for "failing to appear for a previous court date or if they are charged with a felony and in addition to that felony they also are accused of being a danger to property or person. If they are charged with a misdemeanor and that misdemeanor includes an assault or if the child has used a weapon to commit the assault."

Mullan says "even if a child meets the technical criteria to go to detention, they still might not go to detention because there's enough support and supervision at home that the counselor may say we're going to leave this child in the community."

The initial order only allows children to be held in detention only up to five days and then within those first five days they have to have a hearing in front of a judge. If the juvenile has to remain in detention, another hearing is scheduled within 10 days after that.

For other crimes - detention or going home is based on points.

Juveniles arrested who have seven points or less stay out in the community and how many points a juvenile accumulates depends on the answers to certain questions.

"The aggravating factors are has the child been in detention before? Have they been going to school? Do they have a history in juvenile court?" Mullan told WBTV. "And then the mitigating factors could be things like does the parent want them home? Is there a supervision plan in place?"

Juvenile advocates say keeping kids out of detention centers is beneficial for the community and a plus for juveniles.

"They get the same protections if not more protection because these are children that we are dealing with. We don't just lock kids up and just forget about them. Children have such unique needs compared to adults and we have an obligation to protect their rights in courts and we have an obligation to make sure they get as many opportunity afforded to them as they should have – to make sure they're in a safe neighborhood or going to a safe school or getting the services they need all while making sure they're being held accountable," Mullan said. "They are in court and they are under the supervision of a judge and they have to follow court orders and if they don't follow court orders they are going to be consequences for them."

"We have an obligation to serve all these children regardless of them making bad decisions," she added. "I don't think they are bad kids. I think they make bad decisions."