- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 8, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Officials say the number of children committed to the Youth Services Division has increased two years in a row because some judges jail youths who commit misdemeanors or status offenses.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1SwILD5 ) reports that an investigation by the newspaper in December found that hundreds of runaways and troublemakers end up in the same juvenile-offender lockups as youths who have raped, robbed or murdered.

Division Director Marcus Devine told lawmakers Monday that the juveniles in the system should only include felony offenders who have committed violent acts.

“This is the most intense and expensive type of service that we provide, and I think it is well worth mentioning that we think that the right youth should be in our system, and, by extension, not the wrong youth,” Devine told the Senate Committee on Children and Youth. “We think that lower-intensity, less-high-risk youth that may have committed some offense that is not significant should not be in our system.”

He says committing minors with status offenses or misdemeanors isn’t rational because the division spends about $68,000 per child each year. The division’s annual report says about half of the 526 juveniles committed in fiscal year 2015 fall under those offenses.

Status-offense cases, known in court as Family in Need of Services proceedings, can be filed for children of any age. Most of them are teenagers, but some have been as young as 8 or 9, booking records show.

“Part of the reason for the increase in commitments is because of a few parts of the state where maybe judges don’t feel they have a lot of options to deal with youth that come into the system,” Devine said. “With that lack of options, they commit them” to the Youth Services Division.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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