COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Juvenile car theft has become one of the city’s most common crimes in the last two years, and it can end deadly.
Two 14-year-old boys died after crashing a stolen car last summer. In another case two girls, 12- and 13-years old, were injured after crashing a stolen Kia into a ravine in November.
Data from the Franklin County courts show many teens involved are repeat offenders. Now the juvenile court system is working on a program aimed at breaking that cycle and getting to the root of the issue.
Juvenile Judge George Leach said this pilot program has been two years in the making.
“All different components had to come in to figure out how do we figure out the problem and then how do we tackle the problem,” Leach said.
Data shows in the last two years, there have been a total of 1,406 stolen car filings in juvenile court. Of those, there are 810 different teens involved. He said 29 percent of those teens are repeat offenders.
Data shows the average age of the youth stealing the cars is 15, but it ranges from ages 10 to 18.
Of the 1,406 cases, the data shows 588 of the youths involved were matched to detention screenings on an initial arrest. The average amount of days spent in the juvenile intervention center is 23 days.
Leach said they plan to start this program with a small sample of those teens, adding that there will be different paths for the different roles played.
“So you have an influencer, someone who is driving the car, and in the car, you’ll have three or four participants,” Leach said. “We want to have a sampling of each group through. We want to make sure we get the ones who have done it before because we are going to learn from them.”
Leach said the plan is to start with an initial four-week program. Then, depending on the juvenile’s track, there could be an additional weeks. He said the program will start with the youth talking to professionals about their motivations and some will participate in community and court services.
The professionals will also investigate the teens’ social media use to better understand how that can be a driving factor.
“Have a program where they are coming to the program, they are interviewing, and they are working with counselors, professionals to figure out because it is still a juvenile,” Leach said. “We are not talking about adult minds here, we are talking about juveniles and getting to what’s clicking for them.”
He said they are still working out who exactly those professionals will be: counselors, the department of youth services, or community and religious leaders.
Leach said that at the end of the program, they hope to get the teens involved in some vocational learning to set them up for future careers. He said the goal is to partner with local automotive companies and teach the teens basic skills, hoping the program will provide school credit for this training.
In the last few months, the numbers have been showing a downward trend in juvenile car thefts in Franklin County. However, Leach said the summer will be the real test to see if real change is being made.
Leach said they are still working out what the roles of each department like the judges, youth services and law enforcement will be.
Once the funding is secured, they are hoping to start the program sometime later this year.