Charlotte, NC: Abusing a Program for Young First Offenders?

Posted on June 3, 2013

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Rad Berky at WCNC reports that a Charlotte, NC mom called police to report the theft of Pop-Tarts from her house.  It turns out that she fingered her own 13-year-old son as the culprit.

This is bad enough by itself, but the police actually arrested the kid and charged him with misdemeanor larceny.  What the….?

Mr. Berky follows up with another article in which the police explain why this was the best course of action:

“I see a lot of parents who have a problem with their children.  It becomes really desperate,” said CMPD detective, Keith Way…. Way said the arrest was based on discussions with the mother and the boy about past disciplinary problems….  The boy will not be sent to regular criminal court now.  Instead, he is being referred to a new program aimed at stopping kids from starting a life of crime.  Sergeant David Schwob, who administers the program, said, “We take discipline cases, runaways…we take other cases that wouldn’t necessarily meet the criteria to go to criminal court and we send them to the Diversion Court Program.” …. “We bring in families as well.  It is important to have the family members involved in this because there’s been a disconnect at the home and we are working to try to rehabilitate and refocus them,” said Sgt. Schwob.

So what’s this “Diversion Court Program?”  Lila did some poking around and found that it is an educational program run by a private firm, Life Connections Inc.  The heart of their mission statement is to provide “first time youthful offenders between the ages of 12 and 16 with an educational experience. The program educates these teens and their families about their offense, and how it affects them personally, as well as their family and their community.”  If the kids complete the program, then they will not have a permanent criminal record, Mr. Berky reports.

Ooookay.  This all sounds very high-minded and noble and for the boy’s own good, but

…Why is there apparently no way to provide this service, or a similar one, to troubled kids without a first offense?

…Does this mean that the police charged the Charlotte boy with a misdemeanor for the express purpose of “qualifying” him for this program?

…What is this program really going to teach the kid?  How do you “educate” someone about the impact on himself, his family and the community of his “offense” of stealing a Pop-Tart from his own home?

…What if this kid doesn’t complete the program?  The misdemeanor will be part of his permanent criminal record, over a damn Pop-Tart from his own kitchen, something that would be considered his for the taking in just about any normal household.  What kind of message does that send?

I’m sympathetic to overwhelmed parents of unruly kids, but this program is intended for young first offenders.  It is supposed to be about diverting these young offenders from a possible impending life of crime.  It shouldn’t be about merely frustrated parents and merely undisciplined kids.  If this kid was just unruly and driving his mom crazy, this is not the program for him.  If he really was dabbling in criminal activity, a real opportunity to shunt him into this program would have arisen soon enough.  Something involving a real crime, like stealing some other kid’s bike or getting into drugs.  Not Pop-Tarts out of his own kitchen.  Maybe the cops were trying to do his mom a favor, trying to help; but the fact remains that this is really, truly, no kidding, his first criminal offense.  Thanks, Mom.  Thanks, cops.

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