CRIME TRACKER: Fewer teen criminal cases in Tri-Cities

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- KEPR found fewer teens are ending up behind bars. As good as that sounds, there's two sides of the equation.

Locked up, but not quite out of luck. There are still plenty of troubled teens at the juvenile justice center, but take a closer look, and you'll find fewer kids spending time behind bars.

To keep teens away from the slammer, juvenile court workers beefed up partnerships with local schools. More teens were enrolled in school counseling programs, as well as classes specially targeted to at-risk teens. Since then, the number of criminal case filings against teens have dropped by a quarter, to the lowest number in at least five years.

"The fact that we're intervening with those kids, that we're keeping teens in school, is reflected in those numbers," says Court Administrator Sharon Paradis.

KEPR learned that's only part of the story. On the flipside is Washington's money problems. It's meant fewer police on the streets, and fewer probation officers. So fewer kids are getting caught for their misdeeds. It's another reason why cases filings are down.

Jesse Campos runs an anti-gang organization in the Tri-Cities. He says accountability is the first step in getting teens to travel the straight and narrow.

"If they're not kept accountable like they should be, they will see it as a slap on the hand and do it again," Campos says. It won't stop them from doing their actions."

Court workers insist the most serious offenders will always end up behind bars, even if fewer teens are routinely coming through the jail.