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Friday, February 11, 2011

Michigan law allows children of any age to be charged as adults at the discretion of the prosecutor,

GENESEE COUNTY, Michigan — They aren’t old enough to vote, and some aren’t even old enough to drive a car.

Six people younger than 18 — including a 14-year-old boy — have been charged with murder this year.

And the Genesee Valley Regional Detention Center has hit its capacity limit of 70 juveniles four times this year.

“It ebbs and flows — right now, it’s obviously flowing,” said Patrice Stiehl, who supervises the Genesee County courts’ juvenile division. “I don’t know that there is any rhyme or reason. It just seems like in 2010 we’ve had more issues than in 2009. This fall just seems to be bad.”

Those who work in the juvenile system say more juveniles are committing violent crimes.

Genesee Circuit Judge David Newblatt said he sees more juveniles involved in crimes with guns or knives.

“What I’m seeing quite a bit of is a general breakdown in the family, and I think that’s causing a lot of what you are seeing. A lot of these kids don’t have the foundation.”

Last month, 14-year-old Mark A. Jones became the youngest person charged as an adult with felony murder during Genesee County Prosecutor’s David Leyton’s tenure as prosecutor after Jones allegedly killed an elderly woman during a robbery.

Days later, 15-year-old Deonte I. Gray was charged as an adult following accusations he shot at a Flint police officer during a home invasion. The officer returned fire and hit the boy in the leg.

Two other teens, 14 and 15, were charged as adults with home invasion in the case.

The county detention center currently has 20 youths who have been charged as adults because of the severity of the allegations, including felonious assault, home invasion and using weapons.

More often than not this year, the detention center has had to bring in extra staff because it had more than 60 juveniles being held, said center Director Fred Woelmer.

Flint Southwestern Academy senior Imani Horne, 17, said the actions of a few give teenagers as a whole a bad name.

“In a sense, it kind of makes me angry,” she said. “We are already looked down upon (by society). It’s just ridiculous, one thing after another.”

Flint already has exceeded last year’s 360 misdemeanor juvenile arrests, with 381 so far this year. The city’s 187 juvenile felony arrests are on pace to exceed the 194 made last year.

Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell believes the reason behind some of the crimes is the high dropout rate in the area.

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