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System fails juveniles, judge says

(ran NS, S editions of Tampa Bay and State)

The juvenile justice system is a "mega-problem" for Florida and it's time to do something about it, a circuit judge said Friday.

Judge Crockett Farnell shared with a luncheon crowd of civic leaders a portion of the juvenile court's docket of the day:

A 14-year-old girl charged with breaking and entering a public school. She'd been released from the juvenile detention system three days earlier.

A 10-year-old boy charged with failure to show up in court for battering a teacher. Before he could be rounded up for a second court appearance, he'd battered another teacher.

A 15-year-old boy charged with auto theft. He'd been out of the detention center a week.

A 15-year-old boy, suspended from school, charged with trespassing on school grounds. He'd also forced his way onto a school bus where he hit the driver with a concrete block.

A 12-year-old girl charged with shoplifting at Burdines. She has 25 previous convictions.

"We've got to get society back on the right track," Farnell told the members of Leadership Pinellas. "We need programs that start early and have effective punitive actions."

Other members of the panel _ from law enforcement, public agencies and the school district _ agreed.

"All those Judge Farnell referred to except one are back in our schools today," said school Superintendent Howard Hinesley.

Public schools are not equipped to deal with criminals, Hinesley said. Last year there were 1,400 juvenile felons in classrooms throughout the county.

"A wake-up call is long overdue," Hinesley said.

State Attorney Bernie McCabe said the juvenile justice system took a turn in the right direction Oct. 1 when new regulations became law.

Bill Gandy, the district's juvenile justice manager, said the new rules should change the emphasis from social services to criminal justice.

"The first priority will be public safety," Gandy said.

McCabe said new regulations call for an increase in prison beds as well as prevention programs that begin at an earlier age. The county has been promised an assessment center where runaways, truants, drunks and children on drugs would be evaluated then referred to the proper agencies, McCabe said.

Someone in the audience asked McCabe how the state's new boot camps for juvenile offenders were working.

McCabe said it was too soon to tell. Then he related how a recent boot camp graduate had committed a crime so he could be recommitted.

The youngster told McCabe: "It's the only place I've ever been where somebody cared what I did."

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