Byline: DANA TREEN
Violent felony crime involving Jacksonville youth has taken a sharp uptick, but Juvenile Court Judge Henry Davis doesn't need to see the numbers to know it.
He said he is watching "a whole generation - a couple of generations - out of control."
Davis, who presides over 20 to 80 cases a day in his courtroom, said he sees little of the respect for courts or the fear of incarceration that existed when the system was founded on European judicial philosophy.
"We're just losing our civilization day by day," he said. "My view is we have a criminal justice system that was designed for a different era."
The wholesale social breakdown Davis said he has witnessed during two years in juvenile court are reflected in statistics compiled by the state Department of Juvenile Justice:
The number of Duval County juveniles ages 10 through 17 charged with crimes from July 1, 2007, to June 30 increased 13 percent compared with the previous year. At the same time, the number of crimes involving juveniles increased 16 percent, meaning, youths were committing more crimes.
Murders and manslaughters charged to juveniles went down, from 14 to 10, but other violent crimes increased sharply. Armed robbery increased 25 percent; other robberies climbed 28 percent.
Auto theft, a nonviolent crime but one that is also considered the juvenile "starter felony," increased 26 percent.
Grand larceny jumped 18 percent.
"I think people are in denial [of] just how bad things are in Jacksonville," Davis said.
The statistics drawn from the recent records of youth offenses come at the end of a fairly flat youth crime rate in Jacksonville and a decline across the state. Since 2002-03, the number of Duval County youth charged with violent offenses went from 7.9 to 7.8 per 1,000 during the 2006-07 year. Statewide, the number went from 8.1 to 7.5 per 1,000, according to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Davis said fights at schools are becoming more common and can involve 30 or more students. Bullying is a problem, too, with groups of aggressors assaulting individuals along racial lines, he said.
"It is not uncommon for 13- and 14-year-old boys to have assault weapons in their homes," he said. "You get cases of armed robberies at schools."
In the 2007-08 school year, 18 guns were found at Duval County schools, according to information from the school system. So far this school year, seven have been confiscated. All the cases resulted in arrests, said school spokeswoman Jill Johnson.
Advocates for youth said while societal conditions contribute to the crime numbers, changes in the law have also had an impact in how children are viewed. …