The case for trauma and juvenile crime - CBS46 News

The case for trauma and juvenile crime

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(Source: WGCL) (Source: WGCL)

Douglas County Judge Peggy Walker loves the kids she serves.

In her nearly 20 years on the bench, she has just about seen it all. And whether it's truancy or crime, the children she sees are often affected by traumatic events that impact how they live.

“We don't understand that trauma affects development,” Walker told CBS46 in an exclusive interview.

CBS46 was granted unprecedented access to the court system over the past year.

“If you have not had your needs met as an infant and toddler, you do not develop language and behavior becomes your language," she said

In juvenile court, Walker not only oversees children who have committed crimes, but also domestic cases where care, support and custody of minor children is an issue.

"We see a lot of trauma come from what I call chronic neglect,” she said.

Experts, like Corina Giles, a licensed therapist with “PlayTime! A Therapy Center” tell CBS46 trauma can take many forms.

"It could be trauma that happens within the family, it could be trauma that happens outside of the family,” Giles said, like divorce, substance abuse, family violence or even health challenges, but psychological and emotional issues are also a growing concern.

Over the last two years, the juvenile justice system has seen an increase in the number of youth that have mental health diagnosis, said Deputy Commissioner Joe Vignati with the state’s system.

"What we're seeing here in the facility [is] more youth that have mental health issues, more of the youth that have complex trauma issues, and youth that are more of a risk to commit another offense,” Vignati said.

Judge Steve Teske, the chief juvenile judge in Clayton County, says it’s important to understand and treat the problem before locking up the child.

"The problem is that when you just punish the kid, you're actually just punishing a symptom of which a lot of it is just childhood trauma,” he said.

And if this trauma is not treated, it can lead to juvenile offenders becoming repeat offenders.

The Atlanta Police Department has the data to back that up.

According to Police Chief Erika Shields, current data shows an example of five juveniles that have 101 arrests between them and are responsible for 128 crimes.

Shields said these crimes are the result of hopelessness in many teens.

"They do not have homes to speak of, their lives lack structure and they very often may be hungry, truly hungry for food. When you have nothing, than why would you not turn to crime,” she said in a press conference. 

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