Spike in Juvenile Crime Rates in Bexar County Raises Concerns.
San Antonio has seen a significant increase in juvenile crime across several categories, including gun-related felonies, prompting concern from public officials and probation officers.
During a recent hearing where a 12-year-old boy was on trial for a felony charge of making a terroristic threat at his school, Judge William Cruz Shaw uncovered substance abuse problems and family dysfunction that contributed to the boy’s behavior. Shaw identified family members as contributing factors, saying that giving illegal substances and alcohol to children encourages them to engage in illegal and violent activities.
“A child listens to your family or people around you,” Shaw said. “Who do you listen to? That’s the issue.”
Moreover, a report shared with the Public Safety Committee of the San Antonio City Council reveals notable statistics surrounding juvenile crime trends. Whereas in the past non-violent felonies were considered under control, the report showed an increase of 135% in non-violent felony reports from 120 to 282 year-to-date referrals through February. The chapter about “violent felony referrals” increased by 27.5% from 80 cases to 102. The offenses included vehicle theft, breaking and entering into homes, and drugs abuse.
“This is an alarming situation and we will do everything in our power to address this,” Shaw said before adding, “as a child, you know what to do with your time. To make sure your children are not getting in trouble for drugs, gun violence, or other criminal behaviors, and make sure they stay in school.”
Despite the rise in juvenile crime, the juvenile system is focused on rehabilitating children, with probation officers seeing rehabilitation as a hopeful intervention strategy. Chief Juvenile Probation Officer for Bexar County, Jill Mata, shared this message. She indicated that kids who come into the system are looking for ways to improve and do better.
The juvenile system is focused on rehabilitation more than punishment. Mata stated that the focus is much more on making it better for kids and reconnecting them to communities. “In they juvenile system, reconnecting kids to communities, finding healthy activities is very important because it helps them to get out of the bad circumstances that led to crime in the first place,” Mata said.
While there is a small core group of kids who need much higher levels of care, Mata said that most children who enter the system want to do well and just need support. She explains that living in a culture of violence begets violence, particularly when guns are easily accessible to youngsters.
Solutions to help prev ent increasing crime don’t have to be complicated. Mata said that volunteering for just an hour could make a significant difference if there is a commitment to providing support. The juvenile system remains focused on helping young people, reinforcing positive values, and giving kids alternative activities to help them succeed.
“We continue our efforts, and the focus will always be on the child. It’s a challenging time to work in juvenile probation at the moment, but we believe that we will come to a better future for our children,” Shaw concluded.