What happens when you strip away consequences for holding a gun to somebody’s head, or kicking in somebody’s back door?  What happens when you tell a 16-year old that the worst thing that will happen to him if he commits a serious crime is a few months behind bars, hardly a threat to a child who views incarceration as a sign of street cred?  And what happens when you prevent police from even detaining the kids who just broke into your neighbor’s house?

This is what happens to the offender:

The 18-year-old who was shot dead Saturday by Macon police officers had been released from prison in September, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections Web site.

The DOC’s inmate query site said Bradley Gastin was paroled Sept. 16 from Rogers State Prison in Reidsville. On April 29, 2008, he began serving a three-year sentence for robbery by force, according to the site.

Gastin walked out of prison, early, two months ago.  Now he is dead, after trying to run over police officers during a carjacking.  Thank God no police officers were killed, in what is only the latest dangerous situation directly traceable to the broken juvenile justice system:

Macon police say Gastin and 20-year-old Tommy Lee Hardy Jr. on Saturday carjacked a Ford Expedition and later rammed a Macon police car with the stolen vehicle.

Two police officers, who were standing near the police car, fired several shots that killed Gastin, who was driving the Expedition.

Hardy is now charged with armed robbery and carjacking.  That means the young men had a gun in that car.  They held a gun to somebody’s head and then tried to kill some cops.  At what point does the public get to see the dead youth’s juvenile record, to see precisely how many times some judge let him walk in the past?

Who wins here?  Only the people who have decided that grandstanding against law enforcement is more important than protecting the public — or protecting the offenders from themselves.

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Meanwhile, Channel 2’s Richard Elliot reports an infuriating story about the Juvenile Justice’s Detention Assessment protocol, which forces police officers to release juvenile offenders immediately back onto the streets for crimes like drug trafficking (certain drugs), escape with a dangerous weapon, cruelty to children, and burglary.  I couldn’t find the story on the Channel 2 website, but the Dekalb Officers blog links to it here.

Imagine calling the police to report a break-in in progress in your neighbor’s house.  The police come and catch the youths running down the street with your neighbor’s laptop and gun.  What happens next?  Well, unless they have serious priors or pending felonies (which would require somebody in the courts actually doing something about what they did the last time) the police have to let them go with an order to appear in court.

Before your neighbor gets home from work, the gang that rolled his house will be back on the streets again.

Looking for whoever called the police on them.  In other words, you.

The same goes for calling the cops on that kid tearing down a street sign, or breaking a car window, or selling drugs, or prostituting themselves.  Intervening at all has become an extremely high-risk activity: why get involved at all?

It could be said about many of these crimes, but why is burglary even on the list of so-called “catch and release” offenses?  Why have we dumbed down the horrifying act of violating somebody’s home?  The Juvenile Justice system is playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives.  And still, despite the manifold, tragic failures of such leniency, the drumbeat continues that we are too harsh with juveniles, we have to offer more “services” instead of incarceration, we lock up too many kids and throw away the key.

Bunk.  None of that is the least bit true.  Despite massive hype to the contrary and breast-beating by the usual suspects, there are very, very few youths in the state system serving adult sentences for their crimes.  Meanwhile, Atlanta, and every other city, is knee-deep in recreation centers, after-school care, interventions, recreation, and so on and so on and so on.  It’s a giant patronage machine used as much to organize political machines and get out the vote, frankly, as to “provide services” where they are needed.  I know.  I’ve seen those payrolls.  I’ve written those grants.

When somebody starts telling the truth about that, maybe more kids will get the help they really need — speedy removal to detention centers for long enough time to turn their lives around, or at least keep them, temporarily, out of harm’s way.

For, as frustrating as the story Richard Elliot uncovered may be, it’s the tip of the iceberg.  He’s just talking about the youths who don’t get detained for even one night.  How many youths charged with even more serious crimes bond out on after a day, or a week, or a month?  How many of those cases simply disappear into the worm-hole of the courts?

I spend a lot of time blaming anti-incarceration advocates for creating such a dangerously lenient system, but, in fairness, a lot of the built-in leniency is just as much a product of the politics of fiscal conservatives who don’t want to spend the money it would take — or bother expending the political capital for the fight — to fund the courts, monitor the performance of judges, and actually get “tough on crime.”

When the state legislatures return to work this year, there is plenty of blame to go around.

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