Three young boys charged with breaking into and damaging Augusta Preparatory Day School last month are prime examples of the latest trend in juvenile crime in Columbia County.
"I see them getting younger," Columbia County Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan said.
The boys accused in the incident were 12, 13 and 14 years old and two were from outside of the county -- from Hephzibah and Waynesboro, Ga., Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said.
During the summer months, the sheriff's office usually sees a slight increase in nonviolent crimes commonly associated with juveniles, including shoplifting, criminal trespass (vandalism), larceny and entering autos, Morris said.
Numbers fluctuate from year to year, but Morris said there have been a few more of those kinds of crimes this year compared with 2009. But he said many of those might not have been committed by juveniles.
The problem of juvenile crime may seem more severe because some of the cases were more publicized than most.
"Yes, we've had some more high-profile, for lack of better words, more interesting cases (involving juveniles)," Morris said, specifically citing the vandalism of Augusta Prep. "We've had some cases that have involved extensive property damage unlike years before. As far as the total numbers are concerned, there are a few more this year."
In 2009, 130 juveniles ages 10-17 were charged with crimes. So far this year, 139 children in the same age range were arrested, Morris said.
But the rise in numbers isn't what is alarming, Morris said. It is who is committing the offenses.
"We've had more 13-to-14-year-old offenders (lately), substantially more," Morris said.
From January to mid-July of 2009, the sheriff's office charged six juveniles in that age range with crimes. Through mid-July this year, Morris said, 23 have been charged.
"We're looking at the ages and why we're experiencing a rather dramatic increase in the 13-to-14-year-old range," Morris said.
Flanagan said he's seen evidence of both trends in his courtroom.
"I see them getting younger," he said.
And more juvenile offenders from outside the county are appearing in his court.
"I'm getting more of my shopliftings from out of the area," Flanagan said. "We're seeing the same thing in the adult system."
Morris and Flanagan agree on one factor contributing to the younger offenders and the slight uptick in youth-related crime during the summer. "They are bored and lack parental supervision," Flanagan said.
Flanagan and his staff take a proactive approach to juvenile crime by giving presentations to all fifth-graders in the county. He warns them that as they get older, more offenses are handled in the court system as opposed to within the school or between parents.
That might be lowering the number of juvenile offenders from Columbia County, while the number of those from outside the county rises.
"I talk to all the (fifth-grade) children physically in school," Flanagan said. "Every one of them gets to see you, and I think it helps. ... I found by talking to the younger kids, that I've seen it is keeping the stats lower."
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