A clear message

Thursday, March 2, 2006

In Cape Girardeau County, a clear message is being sent to young offenders that violent crimes will result in prison sentences. That was the case last month when two teenagers, one 15 years old and the other 17, were sentenced to 10 years in prison for the armed robbery last year of the KFC fast-food restaurant on William Street.

Both boys were eligible for a program run by the Division of Youth Services aimed at rehabilitation with regular evaluations that could have resulted in either probation or serving time in prison after evaluations at age 18 and 21.

Both the prosecutor and judge in this case gave the options -- prison or DYS -- serious consideration and chose prison primarily for two reasons: One was the seriousness of the crime, which involved holding a gun to the head of a KFC employee; the other was to send a signal to young offenders that they won't avoid prison just because they are teenagers.

DYS, as the Southeast Missourian has reported in the past, has a model program that has a high success rate and is copied by many other states. The DYS program has been used in Cape Girardeau County cases before and is acknowledged as a good alternative to prison by prosecutors and judges.

But in this case it was determined that a prison sentence best fit the circumstances. The public, for the most part, would likely agree.

As for the two young offenders, they will not go directly into a prison population of hardened criminals. Teenagers who are certified to be tried as adults and are convicted go to the Northeast Correctional Center in Bowling Green, Mo., which houses the certified juvenile unit. By statute, these young offenders are required to be kept separate from adult offenders.

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