Juvenile Crime Declining In Some Parts Of East Texas

It appears that juvenile crime across East Texas is going down.

Since 1998, Wood County has seen their juvenile referral rate drop from 185 to 170. In Upshur County, those numbers have gone from 134 to 88.

In Van Zandt, the juvenile referral rate has gone down from 227 to 156. In Smith County, the number has dropped from 1,188 to 792.

Authorities in Smith County told KLTV 7's Lindsay Wilcox a number of specialized programs have helped make the decline possible.

It's a few minutes before lunch, and the juvenile inmates are sitting in on a life skills class. Nelson Downing, director of the center says it's just one of the many activities they go through everyday.

"This is not a hotel. They get up at 5 o'clock in the morning. They stay out of that room until 8 o'clock at night," says Downing.

The inmates are responsible for daily chores like making their beds, and doing the laundry, but in addition to that, they go through a host of other classes designed to show them there's more to life than being stuck behind bars.

Downing says, "We have a myriad of professionals that come in and talk to them about, 'This is what I did with my life. '  What they find out is that these people are just people like they are. They may have made mistakes too, but they overcame it and did well."

Several programs are in place to address specific issues, like sexual crimes and drug abuse.

"We're doing family training on how to deal with the drug use in your home if your child's using," says Downing.

One pilot program that just wrapped up was designed to help curb gang participation. Downing says during the 8 week program, every single participant passed all of their drug tests and there were no behavioral problems to speak of.

"We had rival gang members, who on the street might shoot at each other or fight with each other, work side-by-side with no problems," says Downing.

Statistically, some of these people may end up in the attention centeer again, but Smith County has seen a 9% drop in their repeat offender rate.

Downing says by investing in these kids now, they still have a chance to lead productive lives.

Not all of East Texas is enjoying the downward trend.

Between 1998 and 2005, the number of juvenile referrals in Rusk County went up from 74 to 105. In Gregg, those numbers increased from 1,022 to 1,401.  In Cherokee County, the number increased from 192 to 200

Like Smith County, these counties also offer specialized programs to try and rehabilitate the juveniles in their care.  However, some of them are not as extensive.

Lindsay Wilcox/Reporting: lwilcox@kltv.com