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Efforts launched to bring forth juvenile justice reform

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On Guam there are between 600-700 people under some form of juvenile probation - it's considered a staggering number based on the island's total population size. But efforts launched in the last year hope to bring another approach to juvenile justice reform on Guam.

While building a new prison is one of the solutions to address the overcrowding of detainees and inmates at the Department of Corrections, it's only a small piece of the puzzle. "I think that long term if the government and our community wants to reduce those numbers they have to start with the juveniles that's where it starts, and I think that based on the work I've been doing along with a bunch of people in the system, I think there is a lot of progress that can be made toward reducing the pipeline from school to prison," explained Joshua Tenorio. As administrator of the courts for the Judiciary of Guam, he spoke before the Rotary Club of Tumon Bay about efforts to combat the hundreds of cases of juvenile delinquency on Guam, such as juvenile justice reform.

"The chief justice (Robert Torres), he talked about it at his State of the Judiciary Address last May and in September he issued a call to action and we've been convening four separate group of teams focused on four issues that we believe we can resolve within a year to a year in a half," Tenorio stated. The four areas of concentration include evidence based practices, the Juvenile Court referral process, juvenile defense prosecution and court language. Juvenile justice reform appears to be needed more than ever evident by recent headlines.

Earlier this month, five boys between the ages of 11 and 14 were detained at the Department of Youth Affairs for the alleged role in multiple burglaries at Wettengel Elementary School. "These are indications of socio-economic situations or indications of the lack of parental supervision also the lack of alternatives to deal with the things," said Tenorio. "The high percentage of juveniles are confronted with mental health issues, with substance abuse issues and if we're not able to sort those out at the front end we won't be able to divert them from getting into the prison." The Wettengel burglaries aren't the only case. Just last month, Tenorio says a 7-year-old and a 9-year-old were arrested last month for criminal sexual conduct. Additionally in the last school year, there were over 1,800 DOE students reported for truancy issues - a big indicator he says for behavior headed into juvenile delinquency.

"The number of juveniles detained at DYA is very high, usually that's around maybe 50 or 60 - in certain states like the state of Hawaii, statewide the number of juveniles at that fort level of detention is less than 25. And that's because they have created some diversion programs and changed their way of dealing with things we need to be able to identify the underlying causes of delinquent behavior," he said.

Tenorio says the solution is to treat juveniles as individuals rather than looking at them as numbers as more than likely many of them are victims of crimes themselves. Along with finding alternatives to incarceration, he says the judiciary has a memorandum of understanding with DOE to provide instruction and training in areas such as anti-bullying programs, play-by-the-rules, school resource officers and law-related education.

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