Fewer charges against teens in Tri-Cities

BENTON, FRANKLIN COUNTIES, Wash. -- Just this week, a Walla Walla teen was arrested for murder. And a pair of Richland teens was arrested for killing a friend last summer. These are shocking crimes that have many concerns. It has KEPR tracking crime committed by our local teens. Despite these, KEPR found charges against kids are dropping significantly. Who gets the credit depends on who you talk to.

"It was horrible. I was living hell on earth," said 'Julie.'

'Julie' didn't want to show her face to protect her identity. But she knows the horrors of jail life firsthand. The trouble started last year when 'Julie' went to school drunk. When police tried to arrest her, she assaulted them. She's had big dues to pay.

"I've learned my lesson and now I'm just getting back up there," added 'Julie.'

'Julie' wants to become a nurse. It's just one way she's reforming her life. And it appears more local teens are doing the same.

We pulled the numbers of prosecutor filings for our area. In Benton County, charges against kids dropped by more than a quarter last year. In Franklin County, they fell nearly a third. Police say that's because the courts aren't limited to only lock-ups.

"I would say that's just attributed to prosecutors' offices being able to find better alternatives rather than incarceration. There's better programs out there than just incarceration for juvenile offenders," said Kennewick Police Sergeant Ken Lattin.

Police we spoke with also say prosecutors need to be more choosy with what cases they go after. For this reason, it doesn't mean juvenile crime is necessarily down. It could mean fewer incidents are prosecuted.

"Do you see more people getting into trouble?" asked Abby Acone.

"Little by little, yeah. Some more people getting into trouble...People I hang out with try to be something they're not," replied 'Julie.'

Prosecutors couldn't comment on camera for our deadline, but they view it differently. They attribute the drop to a strong justice system that holds kids accountable without just time behind bars.

"They need help. That's what we as adults are supposed to be doing. Not just locking them away and throwing away the key. We need to figure out what is the cause," said Sgt. Lattin.

It's an ongoing effort to make teens responsible for their choices and keep this community safe. Officials say this downward trend is happening statewide. Filings have dropped overall in the past decade.