HONOLULU(KHON2) — Teen crime has always been a problem. Some juveniles do reoffend according to Tiffany Kaeo, chief of the Family Prosecution Division in the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s office. But when kids break the law they say incarceration is the last option.
The juvenile court system is set up to help at-risk youth and kids who have committed crimes. There are a number of local programs that focus on prevention and treatment.
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Two weeks ago a 15-year-old was arrested for stealing more than $25,000 in jewelry from a store in Waikele. On Tuesday, a 17-year-old was arrested and charged for bringing a starter pistol to his Big Island high school.
Kaeo isn’t surprised. She said teen crime is nothing new.
“I think that we have always been very busy with juvenile crime,” Kaeo explained. “Often times we see property crime. We have seen sexual assault type offenses, violent crime, really the range of crimes is there for children.”
The most recent statistics are from 2020 so it’s hard to know for sure if teen crime is really on the rise but Kaeo said the internet makes it seem like it is, and studies paint a dire picture once kids start down the wrong path.
According to a 2015 Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, juveniles are more likely to reoffend after being incarcerated, with up to 76% committing another crime within three years, and 84% more reoffend within five years.
Another study by the Massachusettes Institute for Technology, found that 40% of juvenile offenders were sent to an adult prison for committing a crime by the time they were 25.
Some people are able to turn their lives around.
Angelina Grutter graduated from Azusa Pacific University in 2018 with a Bachelors in Social work. She’s a substance abuse counselor for at risk youth with the Kalihi YMCA.
It’s a far cry from her life growing up in a poor home in Kalihi.
“Around middle school, I remember that was the toughest season of my life,” she said. “I felt like I was very broken.”
She joined a gang trying to find a place to belong and feel loved.
She started getting into fights.
“I totally thought that my life was forever going to be filled with violence, EBT, a lot of drugs alcohol, abuse and neglect,” Grutter said. “It was in that moment where I recognized I don’t want this life.”
That’s when she got involved with the YMCA program at her school.
“I think that was like the very first time I felt supported,” Grutter said fighting back tears. “It was the first time that I saw that my life could be better than what it was. It gave me hope because they showed me my life is determined by my decisions. I could create a greater life for myself if I just choose to make better decisions.”
Grutter credits the YMCA for changing her life. She’s now paying it forward.
“I’m grateful to be back here, not just to impact the kids who live in this community but to also change their environment,” she said.
YMCA Clinical Director Jaunette DeMello said they always see the potential in the kids who come to their programs.
“They can all do great things,” DeMello said. “But it’s really about having to wait for them to see that potential and to really realize that they can make changes in their life.”
The Kalihi YMCA has a number of different programs and maintains an open door policy. Click here for more information.
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Additional resources for troubled and at-risk youth can be found at www.afyhawaii.com/programs