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Juvenile crimes being addressed says Assistant AG

The increase of juvenile delinquent cases filed with the District Court in 2011 are the result of teenagers being normal, taking risks, making choices and experimenting, says Assistant Attorney General Terrie Bullinger.

Bullinger works particularly on juvenile cases; it’s been her job since August 2008 with the Attorney General’s office. She says children are doing what they’ve always done, but since her position was created, resources have been focused on helping these children and families avoid future problems. It would appear that these incidents have increased, which is probably not the case, she added.

“There were more than two hundred juvenile delinquent cases within 2011 alone, which is high compared to previous years”, says Bullinger.

She said, teenagers are not in charge of their emotions, and their judgement is not always sufficient to choose between right and wrong. “But it’s our job to protect them from themselves. It’s the job of the police, the prosecutors and the parents. “We have to do everything and anything that will keep them from harming their future” she stated.

Speaking with Samoa News, she explained that a juvenile delinquent is a person who is  under the age of 18 and whose act, if they were an adult, would be charged as a crime. When the juvenile court finds that a child is a delinquent, this is not a conviction on their record for the future, as the records of the juvenile court are private, and cannot be revealed at a future time.

She said the largest number of cases involve underage drinking, with fighting and public peace disturbance following. After these types of cases, the next largest group would be burglary and stealing, and there are a very few sexually related cases. Bullinger said regarding the fighting cases, that juveniles often use rocks and beer bottles, and they have no idea the impact they could have on another person, or the harm they could do.

“Many of the burglary cases involving juveniles are minors stealing food from homes, stores or restaurants... they just want to eat” she said. “Teenagers are hungry all the time.”

She added that juvenile cases are on the rise partly because the police, courts and the AG’s office have figured out ways for these juvenile cases to move quickly. She said that they have developed short forms for police to fill out when they place a juvenile in custody.

“In the years before my position was created, juveniles were very rarely placed in custody or brought before the court, unless there was a very serious offense,” said Bullinger. “In effect, kids are doing what they have always done.”

The prosecutor said juveniles usually get in trouble in groups; there are not many cases of juveniles individually breaking the law, or acting alone. Bullinger said the juvenile court has placed some of the juveniles on probation, and some are placed on curfew, and this has helped them a lot.

“If the child has gotten into trouble after dark, the judge will frequently place the child on curfew, which means they must be at home from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day, and they can only be out of their home if they are with a parent or guardian. The juveniles learn there are unpleasant consequences to their delinquent acts.” she stated.

“The AG’s office works together with the court, with the Department of Human and Social Services, such as Child Protection Services, and along with the police, we want to help these juveniles make a fresh start for themselves. If counseling is needed, it will be provided for them.” she said.

“We do everything we can to assist these juveniles; we want to help them realize they have a whole future ahead of them”, said Bullinger.