Boys among men

Monday, January 30, 2006

Boys will be boys, but sometimes they act and get punished as men.

Next month, two teenage boys face that possibility when they are scheduled to be sentenced for a Cape Girardeau armed robbery last summer.

Depending on certain recommendations and the court's discretion, they could either go to a rehabilitation center for youths in Montgomery City, Mo., or face 10 years at an adult prison.

Semaj Lumas, 16, and Isaiah Lane, 15, pleaded guilty in November to armed robbery for the July 21 heist at KFC, 2101 William St.

No one was hurt in the crime, but a gun was displayed and the teens got away with $2,200. An adult, Jimmy Walker, 29, allegedly was involved in the planning of the robbery and is currently being sought by authorities.

Because the boys were certified in September to be charged as adults for the crime, they face a sentencing range up to life in prison for the charges of first-degree robbery and armed criminal action and would have to serve 85 percent of that sentence before being eligible for release.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said his office will ask for a 10-year sentence for the duo, stating that such a sentence is justifiable for a crime he called premeditated and violent.

But some feel that sentence may be too harsh for the pair.

"The odds of a teenager who is placed into the adult correctional system returning to society as a productive citizen is not likely," said Steven Buhs in a letter published by the Southeast Missourian in November.

Buhs, a corrections classification assistant at the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo., suggested an alternative to prison should be provided for youth offenders.

In the late '90s, a program aimed at rehabilitating youths certified as adults, the Dual Jurisdiction Program, was established and offers an alternative for boys like Lane and Lumas.

"We have great success with youthful offenders," said Missouri Division of Youth Services director Paul Bolerjack. "We think we can do good with them."

Bolerjack says the program is focused more on rehabilitating youths rather than punishing them.

In the program, youths receive "a lot of counseling to get at the root and cause of the anger and poor decision making," Bolerjack said.

There are 54 employees at the facility in Montgomery City, including one teacher and 11 counselors who are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Upon the court's request, the division will assess the convicted youths and based on that assessment make a recommendation to the court to send the youths into the program or to prison. It is then up to the court to decide whether or not to follow the program's recommendation.

Since the program's inception, 11 youths have been denied entrance and 46 have been admitted. So far, the court has followed all of the division's recommendations, Bolerjack said.

Of the 46 youths accepted into the program, six had to be sent to an adult prison, 26 have completed the program, and 14 remain at Montgomery City.

Only four of those who have completed the program have been sent to prison for various reasons, including violating their parole or committing another crime, Bolerjack said.

"I think that's pretty good," he said of the success rate.

The program will accept any age of convicted youths who are certified as adults but no one 17 years old and older. The majority of the youths have been between 12 and 16 years old.

Once an offender turns 17 years old, a hearing is held where a judge can decide whether or not to continue the program, give probation, or send the youth to an adult prison for the remainder of the sentence.

If accepted to return to the program, the youth can stay until 21 years old when another court hearing is held. From there, the 21-year-old offender can either be granted probation or sentenced to prison.

Bolerjack could not go into details on what recommendations may be made in Lane and Lumas' case, but he said the division would do the assessment Wednesday.

For the assessment, the division will review the case and interview each one to determine if either qualifies for acceptance into the program, Bolerjack said.

Swingle said he would "vehemently oppose" Lane and Lumas being accepted into the program.

"These are cold-blooded criminals who committed an armed robbery," Swingle said. "We don't look to rehabilitate armed robbers. We look to protect the public from an armed robber."

When asked if the court should be lenient on the boys in light of possibly being influenced by an adult, Swingle said no.

"A person is responsible for his own conduct," he said. In certifying the boys as adults, the court found they understood the consequences of their actions regardless of any possible influence, he said.

Buhs argued that possible influences on the boys should be a major factor in deciding their fates.

"Without adult guidance, constant supervision and tons of encouragement to do the right thing, any of our children can stray," Buhs said.

If placed in prison, the guidance Lumas and Lane may receive would come from criminals who, according to Buhs, would provide the kind of influence to turn the boys not into productive citizens but "hardened criminals."

Sentencing for the two boys is scheduled Feb. 21 before Circuit Judge William Syler.

335-6611 extension 127

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