- Associated Press - Monday, October 27, 2014

MUSKEGON, Mich. (AP) - Making sure young people are accounted for after a certain time of night is a good start when it comes to curbing violence and other criminal activity in the Muskegon County area.

That’s something local authorities in the Muskegon County area feel strongly about. They are continuing periodic curfew sweeps and a curfew intervention program to make sure juveniles are abiding by the rules.

“It gets the kids off the street and where they should be,” said Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson, who has been part of the area’s curfew sweeps since 2002.

A curfew sweep is usually a weekend event where law enforcement officials from multiple jurisdictions attempt to make contact with young people on the street who are out past curfew. Local jurisdictions determine curfews, which are part of city and township ordinances.

Because of the uptick in street violence countywide, Hilson said there have been more curfew sweeps done in the area recently, and the result has been pretty eye-opening.

Curfew violators identified during the sweeps are given the chance to go through a restorative justice program the first time they are cited. In exchange for attending the $45 program, the citation fine —usually around $100 — is dropped, Hilson told The Muskegon Chronicle (https://bit.ly/1sWZFyR ).

The program, run through Mediation and Restorative Services in Muskegon, is meant to inform both the children and their parents of the dangers of being out on Muskegon County streets past curfew.

“There’s just a much greater risk today and we live in a risky world,” said Kate Kesteloot Scarbrough, executive director of Mediation and Restorative Services.

A curfew sweep done the weekend of Sept. 19 in the cities of Muskegon and Muskegon Heights resulted in two juveniles enrolling in the curfew program through MRS and three other juveniles cited for curfew violations

The current curfew is 11 p.m. in the city of Muskegon for those under the age of 17, and 10 p.m. for those under the age of 12, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Juveniles out after curfew were approached by an officer conducting the sweep before being transported to the Muskegon Police Department to meet with a prosecutor and the youth’s parents. At that time, the curfew program was introduced as an option in lieu of the citation.

Hilson said Muskegon had seven scheduled curfew sweeps over the summer and several in the city of Muskegon Heights as well.

Overall, the curfew sweeps have been worthwhile, Hilson said. Any agency in the county can request such sweeps.

“Every year what we tell the chiefs is that they can schedule as many sweeps as they want and we will be sure someone in our (prosecutor’s) office to participate,” he said.

___

A curfew sweep, Hilson said, is broken down like this:

- Authorities involved gather at a police department. There’s a briefing about some of the hot spots in the jurisdiction, and then officers begin to patrol certain assigned districts.

- Authorities approach individuals and ask for identification. They determine whether the teen is “age appropriate” for the curfew time.

- If the juvenile is determined to be a curfew violator, they are taken into custody and brought to the police department, where they will meet with a command officer who makes contact with the child’s parent or guardian.

- A parent or guardian then has to come to the department and meet with authorities before being able to take their child home. The parent or guardian must speak with a prosecutor about the violation and the parents’ options.

- A prosecutor speaks with the parent or guardian and the juvenile offender to explain “what we are doing and why it’s important to stay off the streets,” Hilson said.

- A contract is then presented to the parent that explains that the juvenile has the option to attend the curfew program and avoid paying the curfew violation penalty, which is just over $100.

- Parents or guardians then have to contact Mediation and Restorative Services the next business day and set up a time to go over there. The offender also has to agree that they won’t break curfew again.

___

Kesteloot Scarbrough said she’s personally witnessed the two-hour session — which is part of a curfew violation impact panel — make a difference.

MRS started with the curfew violation program in 2008 and rarely sees a repeat offender. Muskegon County’s juvenile court gives MRS referrals to contact when a curfew violator comes through the system. From there, a parent or guardian is contacted and urged to give the program a chance.

“Kids make mistakes. The goal is not to punish them, but to encourage them not to make the same mistake,” she said. “We want to figure out what’s going on with the kids and give the opportunity to make it right. We all want that: An opportunity to make it right.”

According to MRS statistics, there were only four teens out of 32 who violated curfew a year after taking the class, only one out of 25 kids in 2009, two out of 44 in 2010 and five out of 21 in 2011.

Statistical data for the past two years is still being collected, but the past numbers are promising, Kesteloot Scarbrough said.

“It’s very stable,” she said. “I so commend the vision of our juvenile court. As a fundamental way of how we view a community and juvenile kids in the court system, I would say it’s rare. It’s a program and a philosophy and it changes the way we work with kids.”

The program coordinator, Jackie Hallberg, said it’s interesting to watch the transformation when a teen and guardian attend the panels.

“When they learn they can make amends to it, it’s pretty powerful stuff,” Hallberg said. “One of the purposes of having the curfew panel is that we can explain, ‘When your kids are out late, here’s what can happen with them.’ It’s really about connecting with them, with the community.”

During the two-hour curfew program, Hallberg said the mediators discuss the crime rate in town, and how young people can make safer, better decisions.

“We do the class as a group. It’s a way for them to learn from each other’s experience. The curfew thing can be a gateway into breaking other laws,” she said.

A year after a curfew violator attends the class, Hallberg said they follow up to see if the same juveniles have broken curfew laws again. The findings are hopeful, she said, as very few are making the same mistakes after taking the class. Around 6 percent of juveniles are charged with the same offense.

“We wouldn’t continue the class if it wasn’t successful,” she said.

MRS officials hope more parents and guardians consider following through with the curfew program, rather than just paying the citation and hoping the teen doesn’t violate again.

There’s a lesson to be learned and when the point is driven home, everyone benefits, Kesteloot Scarbrough said.

“MRS is not meant to shame kids,” she said. “It’s about being accountable and it’s about community.”

___

Information from: The Muskegon Chronicle, https://www.mlive.com/muskegon

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide