Delaware judges have illegally put thousands of children charged with minor crimes into the state’s two juvenile detention facilities in the past 3 1/2 years, reports the Wilmington News Journal. That exposes them to kids accused of committing serious offenses ranging from assault with a deadly weapon to rape to carjacking. “A detention center is not really where you want to put your child, because when you do, your child can learn how to commit bigger and better crimes,” said Alison McGonigal, a supervisor at the state’s New Castle County Detention Center.
Although family court judges stopped the practice recently, many justices of the peace continue. In the first six months of 2005, state figures show they illegally locked up more than 300 children. Court officials say in many cases they don’t have any other option. Parents, guardians, or other trusted adults can’t or won’t take them, and state social workers cannot find any shelter. Says Delaware Chief Magistrate Alan Davis: “The judges are just trying to do what’s right,” he said, “even if, under the statute, it’s not legally right.” “State law says if no parent or guardian shows up in court, the child can be released on his or her own recognizance,” said Cari DeSantis, secretary of the state Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families. “But common sense says you can’t turn some child back out onto the streets at 2 o’clock in the morning.”