Crime often begins with those born into trouble - CBS46 News

Crime often begins with those born into trouble

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(Source: WGCL) (Source: WGCL)
ATLANTA (CBS46) -

CBS46 is going in-depth in part of our year-long examination of Georgia's juvenile justice system.

We pulled the hard numbers and learned that crime often begins with those born into trouble. From mental illness and poverty, to children being stigmatized by race, Georgia's children are often born into difficult situations that have far-reaching implications.

And one of the first places those problems surface are in the classroom.

"There's so many different reasons why our kids are troubled, and sometimes it's just life," says third grade teacher Nichole Hall. "Nobody plans on foreclosure, nobody plans on being homeless, nobody plans on divorce or separation, and these things affect our kids so heavily, but yet we just want them to be OK."

The trauma that children suffer varies, but the problem of poverty is prevalent. Georgia ranks 10th in the nation for the number of children living in extreme poverty, which amounts to nearly 300,000 children across the state. In fact, according to the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, more than a quarter of Georgia's children are living below the poverty line in communities with little or no access to high-quality public education, healthcare and community support.

According to the federal poverty guidelines, a family of four in Georgia who have a household income below $24,600 is living below the poverty line.

Experts say that by the age of 3, the brain is 85 percent developed and without those basic needs, children have a hard time developing properly. 

"We know when kids experience toxic stress, and children living in poverty experience greater levels of toxic stress, that can actually change their brain chemistry and how they react," says Dr. Eric Sitkoff.

Then there is mental illness.

The Department of Juvenile Justice tells us that last year, in short term facilities alone, 40 percent of the kids in detention required ongoing mental health services. That number rose to 60 percent in long-term facilities.

"Approximately 50-55 percent of all youth that come into our juvenile justice system in Georgia have a diagnosed mental health issue. That is something we've seen grow over the years."

"We have a lot of kids with substance issues...the kids on the mental health case load, about 91 percent last year, had some sort of substance diagnosis," says Dr. Christy Doyle.

The system also sees kids with mood disorders, depression and anxiety, and sometimes anxiety can come from how a child is treated.

Dr. Kanika Bell is an associate professor of psychology at Clark Atlanta University. She says that studies show that black boys are more likely to be put out of class and more likely to receive harsh punishments.

"They're likely to have more files filled with incident reports compared to their counterparts," says Dr. Bell.

State officials say they are committed to setting juveniles up for success to give them a sense of hope instead of anxiety and fear.

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