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Juvenile Court System Too Soft on Criminals, US Official Says

September 4, 1985 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Punishment for most youthful offenders ″is limited to the psychobabble of social workers and therapists,″ says the head of a federal juvenile deliquency office pegged for extinction by the Reagan administration.

″Rehabilitation has been the premise of the juvenile court system throughout the 20th century, but it has failed miserably,″ Alfred S. Regnery, administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, said in an article written for the conservative Heritage Foundation.

A copy of the article entitled ″Getting Away With Murder,″ scheduled to appear in the foundation’s ″Policy Review″ later this month, was obtained by The Associated Press.

Regnery wrote that while people under the age of 18 commit one-third of the serious crimes, the juvenile justice system ″is antiquated and largely incapable of dealing with the offenses they commit.″

″Despite attempts by some to treat juvenile crimes as trivial indiscretions committed by misguided youth, the statistics suggest something different, a grave problem on a national scale,″ he said.

Regnery said government statistics show that while people between ages 14 and 17 represent just over 7 percent of the U.S. population, about 30 percent of all people arrested for serious crime are juveniles.

″These are criminals who happen to be young, not children who happen to commit crimes,″ Regnery said. He said courts should balance the rights of victims against their traditional premise of acting in what is determined to be ″the best interests of the child.″

″Our juvenile courts should continue to act for the benefit of children, but they should also seek justice and consider the rights of victims of crime,″ Regnery said.

He said ″very little can be done on a federal level to address this problem successfully″ and added that ″more innovative and effective state and local initiatives are critically needed.″

In its fiscal 1986 budget, the administration sought to eliminate the juvenile justice office, which had a $69 million budget, and merge that unit into the larger Office of Justice Programs, which disburses federal money to states and local governments.

Attorney General Edwin Meese III told a House appropriations subcommittee last March that programs to combat juvenile delinquency would continue to receive federal aid after the abolition of the youth crime office.

″It is only a matter of (juvenile programs) being zeroed out as a ‘line item’ in the budget, Meese testified. ″This is a matter of continuing funds for advantageous programs in the youth area, but the funding will come out of other areas in a large block″ administered by the Office of Justice Programs.

But the House subsequently passed legislation that would continue the office, with a $70 million annual budget. The Senate has not yet acted on it.

Regnery’s views reflect a hard-line administration law enforcement approach that resulted last year in passage by Congress of legislation easing the circumstances under which youthful criminals could be tried as adults.

The Justice Department, moreover, has opposed legislation that would prohibit juveniles from being jailed with adults.

″Some people refuse to accept the fact that juveniles commit crimes,″ Regnery said in the article. ″Juvenile crime rates since the 1950s have tripled, yet the theories and policies we use to deal with such crime fails to hold offenders accountable and do not deter crime ....″