Arkansas' locked-up minors increase second year in a row

Arkansas' locked-up minors increase second year in a row

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Half of the juveniles in Division of Youth Services may not be violent offenders.

According to a report by The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ( ), hundreds of youths convicted with misdemeanor charges are put in the same facilities as juveniles who have raped, robbed or murdered.

The report shows this increase has been happening over the past two years.

Division of Youth Services Director, Marcus Devine, said the system is meant for youths who commit violent offenses, not those with misdemeanors.

He said division spends around $68,000 per child each year and the report shows half of the 526 juveniles from 2015 were charged with status offenses or misdemeanors.

"Those numbers just don't make sense of why you would send somebody on a simple possession charge or getting into a fight at school or getting into a fight at school or some disorderly conduct, some misdemeanor charge," Second Judicial Circuit Court Judge Tommy Fowler said. "It is still a crime, I am not trying to make light of that fact, but that punishment does not fit that type of fine."

Region 8 News spoke with Judge Tommy Fowler to see if any of the juveniles from his six counties were sent to DYS for misdemeanor charges.

"Since I have been on the bench since August after being appointed by the Governor, I can think of a handful maybe five juveniles who I have sentenced to DYS, but that was based off a violent crime that they committed and/or an extremely lengthy criminal history," Fowler said. "None of them were on solely misdemeanor charges."

Fowler said there are several things a judge must consider when sentencing a juvenile, but solely misdemeanor offenders should not be sent to DYS.

"It is a big deal and the only reason I could think a Judge might do that is because there has been such a long and exhausted history that this was the final straw," Fowler said. "Even though it might have been a minor offense before they commit a major violent offense then this may be the only way to get their attention."

According to the report, Devine said this is not rational.

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