Here and in other cities, chronically high juvenile crime rates — those ranging above the national average of kids under 15 committing 5 percent of violent crimes, 7 percent of robberies and 9 percent of burglaries — fray the patience of judges and politicians and pop up on newspaper front pages. Each spike in offenses prompts a new round of questions, namely:
What will it take to keep our kids out of the juvenile justice system — for some, just a pipeline to the prison system? More aggressive policing? More social services? Harsher sentences? Or something else?
Would programs to modify the behavior of kids as young as 5 help? Or would taxpayers dismiss that as just more nanny government, especially at a time of economic slowdown, when local and state governments are desperate to cut spending?
Chitwood doesn't hesitate in answering.
"I've got 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-year-olds committing burglary and stealing cars now. What are they going to be doing when they're 21?" he says. "Hey, either you pay when they go to state or federal prison, or you're going to clean the crap up now. But somewhere along the line you are going to pay."