- Associated Press - Saturday, September 6, 2014

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - An Amish man charged with driving drunk?

Yes, it happens in Lancaster County - perhaps more frequently than one would think.

Drunken driving, along with sex abuse, are the crimes most often committed by local members of Plain sects.

In fact, more Amish and Old Order Mennonites are being charged here than ever before, according to local law-enforcement officials and one Amish leader.

“There are more of us now,” said the leader, a 70-year-old man from Leola. “Thirty or 50 years ago, the church could keep a tighter cap on it.”



The man said a steady rise in population, along with new technology - mainly the Internet, cellphones and smartphones - has led to more Plain people facing charges.

“Today, they are more apt to get into trouble,” said the leader, who asked not to be identified because Amish culture frowns on individuals calling attention to themselves. “Years ago, there didn’t seem to be as many (crimes).”

Law-enforcement officials said that crimes committed by Plain folks still make up a very small percentage of the overall crime rate here.

Mark Wilson, director of county parole/probation services, said about 9,000 people here are currently under court supervision.

Roughly 100 of them are Amish and Old Order Mennonites, he said.

Still, that’s an increase from years ago, locals said.

“Some of it might have been overlooked or accepted (in their communities) years ago,” Wilson said.

“We pretty much took care of our own,” the Amish leader said.

Nowadays, it’s also harder for Plain-sect parents to keep an eye on their kids, the leader said.

“They’re not down on the farm the way most were years ago,” he said.

Many, he said, now work construction-type jobs and tend stands at markets among the English.

“They are exposed. They have the phones,” he said. “They are told to stay away from smartphones and the Internet because we don’t want it. We don’t want it!”

Police enforcement, overall, has increased within Plain communities, local officials said.

District Attorney Craig Stedman has a panel of law-enforcement and court officials who meet regularly with Plain-sect elders and leaders.

The leaders have even taken tours of Lancaster County Prison.

It has led to increased awareness within the communities.

“There has been (education) and there will be more,” the Amish leader said.

“It’s an evolution, so to speak. This isn’t something that just happened,” said Strasburg police Chief Steven Echternach, one of Stedman’s liaisons. “There had been some naiveté to the ways of the world.”

Wilson estimated that more than three-quarters of Plain people under supervision committed DUIs or sex offenses. Stedman agreed that those are the most common offenses.

Locals pointed to several reasons why.

- Regarding drunk-driving arrests, young members of Plain sects seem most susceptible, officials said.

Young men brought up in Amish communities are allowed to drive motor vehicles up until the time they join the church.

“It’s accepted,” the Amish man said, “if they are not yet with the church.”

He estimated about 10 to 15 percent of those who are allowed actually drive motor vehicles.

“They might have to park it off the property or down the road,” said New Holland police Lt. Jonathan Heisse, another of Stedman’s liaisons to the Plain sects.

- Rumspringa, described by locals as a period of young folks “sowing their wild oats” before joining the church, can be a risky time.

Echternach called it a “rite of passage, and not all within their community agree it is a good idea.”

“That would put you in a certain amount of risk for underage drinking, DUI,” the Amish man said.

- Members of Plain sects who have joined the church also can be charged with drunk-driving.

“There have been DUIs with horse and buggies and bikes,” Heisse said. “As funny as it sounds, it is a vehicle. And it does occur.”

The answers aren’t as clear regarding sex crimes.

One thing is certain, the abuse is committed against their own people, local officials said.

“They are a community in all aspects,” Echternach said.

Another certainty: Plain-sect offenders here are male.

“I’d be hard-pressed to think of a single female under supervision,” Wilson said.

“Our girls are more shy,” the Amish leader said. “Not in the limelight.”

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Sidebar

How 100 Amish and Old Order Mennonites live on parole in Lancaster County

By Brett Hambright

About 100 members of Plain sects live on parole or probation in Lancaster County.

Just like everyone else, they’re required to keep appointments, make payments and obey court orders.

As hard as that might be.

“The rules and regulations are the same,” said Mark Wilson, director of the county’s parole/probation services. “We hold them accountable.”

In some cases, that means not being allowed to attend church as they traditionally would.

“Our standards,” Wilson said, “are for everybody.”

Complying has been quite an adjustment for Amish and Old Order Mennonites used to living undisturbed.

“It’s been a real challenge for them,” Strasburg police Chief Steven Echternach said. “It’s a unique situation.”

Ongoing efforts to educate Plain folks have paid off, local law-enforcement officials said. Years ago, officials said, some Plain communities weren’t even aware of what a violation or illegal behavior was.

Now, Plain-sect leaders work in unison with Wilson’s 90 probation and parole officers.

“It’s paid dividends for us and for them,” said Echternach, one of Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman’s liaisons to local Plain communities.

But not without the occasional hiccup.

Paying court-ordered fines - almost always in cash, Wilson noted - hasn’t been an issue for Plain folks.

It’s the do’s and don’ts within a judge’s order that have been harder to accommodate.

For sex offenders, those orders often prohibit them from contact with minors.

For Amish and Old Order Mennonite offenders, that means no church - without an approved chaperone.

“In essence, to keep an eye on them,” Wilson said. “They (initially) couldn’t understand why we couldn’t let them attend church.”

That’s not the case anymore.

“We have appointed a couple people to keep an eye on (one offender),” an Amish leader said of a man currently on supervision. “He can come a little later, right before the service starts, and when it’s over, he goes right home.”

Another Amish male on probation lives under similar scrutiny.

“He gets home from work, does some chores, then goes to his room and stays there until the next morning,” said the leader, a 70-year-old from Leola who asked not to be identified because Amish culture frowns on individuals calling attention to themselves.

Echternach, and other local law-enforcement and court officials, keep regular meetings with Plain-sect leaders to make sure they’re in line with the law, and their religion.

“We’ve got our sleeves rolled up and we’re working with these folks,” Echternach said. “We’re asking them to follow (court orders) and still say faithful to their values.”

No doubt, court supervision is a dramatic lifestyle shift for anyone.

There are random visits from officers.

Regular appointments at parole offices must be kept.

Despite horse-and-carriage being their primary means of transportation, Plain people are required to keep those dates. They get to the county’s 13 parole offices via buggy or drivers who are paid to take them, Wilson said.

“They can get where they need to go,” Wilson said.

More and more, officials said, that’s in the right direction.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1q2Vv6a

https://bit.ly/1qUBieI

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Information from: Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era , https://lancasteronline.com

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