|By TRICIA CORTEZ
LAREDO MORNING TIMES
Excerpts only...full article located
"How can Laredo, as a community, help its troubled youth gain a sense of
self-confidence and self-worth to avoid the pitfalls of negative peer pressure and crime,
as well as detention and incarceration?
In Webb County, the number of juveniles arrested doubled from 1993 to 2003, with drug
offenses going up 500 percent. About 70 percent of children in the Webb County juvenile
justice system are also repeat offenders.
This past week, different voices in the community gave various perspectives on and
solutions to the growing problem.
Adam Rodriguez and Magarita Tagle, founders of CORE, a new coalition designed to assess
the true needs of Laredos troubled youth, say the city needs to invest and attract more
resources to bring better services and treatment facilities to help young offenders and
This year CORE, or Clinical Observation and Recommendation Endeavor, lobbied to bring New
Vision, a detox center, to Laredo Medical Center. It opened in March and is now headed by
Tagle said children as young as 10 are now turning to harder drugs, such as cocaine and
methamphetamines. Some are even shooting up heroin or putting it in their eyes with
Visine-like eyedrop bottles.
CORE is also working with Solara Healthcare of Dallas to establish a psychiatric ward for
young people at Doctors Hospital.
The group has also formed a legislative team to bring more state funding and have the
Texas Legislature revisit the juvenile justice code.
At a meeting of the Tri-County Medical Society last week, local physicians pledged their
support to CORE, which hopes the medical society will fund simulcast television
psychiatric services for young people with severe mental illness cases.
William Crouse of Peaceful Solution Character Education,
however, said nothing will change if character education is not taught to young people.
"There is no cure for immoral behavior unless we educate kids about responsible
behavior," said Crouse, whose nonprofit organization teaches classes out of Gregorys
Driving School on Marcella Street.
His classes reinforce the concepts of ownership, respect and self-control. They also show
how theft and stealing form the basis of hatred and violence toward fellow human beings.
"Weve educated our children to be warlike," Crouse said. "But we need to
teach them character education, just like we teach them how to read, write and do
Meanwhile, Rodriguez and Tagle said COREs ultimate goal is to create better communication
among social services agencies and the juvenile department. Once this happens, they can
work closely with families to improve the home environment and help their at-risk
Many juvenile offenders suffer from emotional, academic, mental health and substance abuse
problems, and most come from low-income and dysfunctional families, especially single
Problems are also passed on generationally, with some parents suffering from the same
problems as their children, Rodriguez said.
Judge Manuel "Meme" Flores said he believes parents need to become more
responsible for the behavior of their children, and not rely on the state or county to do
the job for them.
In the absence of proper parental guidance, "our good institutions, such as churches,
schools and local mentoring programs need to step up to the plate," he said.
Flores also believes that "zero tolerance" policies and increasingly stricter
Student Codes of Conduct at the public schools is creating more problems for a large swath
"Schools now have codes of conduct that brand you immediately," Flores said.
"Anything you do, and boom, youre sent to an alternative school. You have no second
chance even if you havent been proven guilty. Schools should wait before doing that but
they panic because they want to be safe. Thats the flaw of the system."
Bobby Santos, United Independent School District superintendent, said schools have
implemented these policies "to take care of kids and staff."
"Zero tolerance is what our district and school board wanted," Santos said,
noting that UISD is looking to expand its alternative schools in the north and south.
Fundamentally, however, Laredo and the rest of Texas should change its attitude about
juveniles and juvenile detention, Flores argued.
"Research and past experience shows that sending someone to detention or
incarceration lowers their self-esteem and sends the message that theyre a loser and will
end up in the penitentiary," he said. "You mix good kids with bad kids and the
good turns bad. Its never the other way around."
In the academic world, some like Dean Champion, a professor at Texas A&M International
University who has written 35 books on the juvenile justice system since 1988, said
detention centers are not necessarily bad for young offenders.
"Its short term for juveniles, and keeps them from
harming others while awaiting adjudication," Champion said.
He noted that only 10 to 12 percent of the 2 million juveniles who come to the attention
of police and school authorities each year nationally do time in a correctional facility.
...Another problem throughout the system is a deeply embedded
racism, Champion said.
Hispanics and blacks, particularly those who are poor, make up the largest percentage of
those doing time, and they often serve longer sentences than their white counterparts, he
Flores, meanwhile, said he is becoming increasingly concerned with another trend in the
Texas juvenile justice system: its emulation of the adult system.
"Its not going to work because the adult system doesnt work," said Flores who
has seen countless adult offenders in the judicial trenches the last 20 years.
"Traditionally, people in Texas believe very strongly in incarceration. Thats the
bottom-line; its intrinsic in Texas society," Flores said. "But warehousing
these kids is not the best solution because they come out worse than they came in."
Building more and larger detention and correctional facilities for young people is also
not the answer, said Flores, even though he supported building a new Youth Village in
Laredo that will include a 72-bed detention center.
"Whats that going to solve or do?" he asked. "Theyre just going to put more
kids in detention and youre going to need more probation officers, county attorneys,
public defenders and so on."
Flores believes the answer lies in better parenting, more counseling, and more
opportunities for young offenders to develop their self-confidence and talents...
This article is © 2005 Laredo Morning Times. We have printed excerpts here for
informational purposes only. Full article can be read at the Laredo Morning Times Website
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