Controversy Swirling Around Disputed Number of Juvenile Offenders

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, AR - Some legislators are objecting to numbers that show 20 percent of the state's first-time juvenile offenders were locked up for marginal infractions.

Division of Youth Services official James Walker says some children were put into juvenile facilities for offenses like sassing a school bus driver.

But Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wiley Branton, Jr. disputes the 20 percent estimate.

As Walker addressed legislators yesterday, Branton was in the audience and was asked to also address lawmakers.  Branton told them Walker presented misinformation.

The Dept. of Human Services says the division of Youth Services in the past fiscal year locked up 621 children, including 428 first-time offenders and 193 repeat offenders.  The agency says 262 were misdemeanor commitments, including 223 who were first-time misdemeanor commitments.

Officials say the 20 percent figure refers to judges' commitments for misdemeanors that include such offenses as disorderly conduct and giving a false name.

Branton says he and other judges wouldn't order a child into custody for a single minor offense in the absence of other problems.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)