Department of justice: Juvenile crime rate at lowest since 1957

Diversion programs believed to be possible reason

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - New data shows California's youth crime is at a record low.

Figures released by the Department of Justice's Criminal Justice Statistics Center show last year, fewer minors were arrested in California than at any time since 1957 when California had three million fewer teenagers.

There has been no exact cause pinpointed, but law enforcement officials suggest diversion programs for at risk teens could be one reason.  

Kern Valley State Prison in Delano is home to nearly 3,600 maximum security inmates.

But for a few hours it was also home to more than a dozen truant and at risk teenagers from the Kern High School District.

Inmates told stories of how their choices landed them in prison---many for life.

"When they come in here, its a whole different set of politics. Its a whole different set of rules. They don't have the freedoms they're accustomed to out there," said correctional Sgt. Jodie Denney.

Every minute of every day is scheduled and supervised.

"This wouldn't be the life for me," said at-risk teen Dominic Pacheco.

More teenagers appear to be realizing that.

The Department Of Justice says in 2011, nearly 149,563 Californians under age 18 were arrested, the lowest number since 1957.

In the last decade there has been a 36% drop in violent crime among youths.

Kern county is showing a similar trend.

The Kern County District Attorney's office says last year it saw about a 40 percent drop in juvenile case referrals compared to about four years ago.

"It is a little less case work in juvenile and we are now able to focus our resources on more serious crimes," said Chief Deputy District Attorney Mark Pafford.

The DA's office and the Juvenile Probation Department believe one reason for the decline is the use of risk assessment tools and diversion programs.  

Programs which Pacheco says definitely work.

"Before I came in here I thought I was a bad a**. I thought, man these cops won't scare me. They think they're all cool because they have guns. Now I come in here and look at it, all the gang banging stuff is really useless. What for? Is it going to get me into college? No. Gang banging to me now is really stupid," said Pacheco.

And with that, the boys left prison. Hopefully, never to return.

The prison's diversion program y is called the EDGE program.

The students came from the Kern County Superintendent Of School's own diversion program called Project 180.

For more information on both programs, you can call KCSOS at (661) 636-4757.

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