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Judge, principal work to decrease juvenile crimes

Sunday, July 09, 2006
Daily Southtown
by Kati Phillips

Judge Michael Stuttley says students behave better in classrooms where teachers drop his name.
So when Paige McNulty, principal of the alternative Independence High School, tells kids she is calling "Mike," they take pause.
Who would've thought their principal was on a first-name basis with the presiding juvenile judge of the 6th Municipal District?
"One thing we've found out is when there is a relationship between my court and the school, there are less problems," he said.
Stuttley and McNulty want to have a lot more juvenile justice workers and educators on a first-name basis this school year. They are organizing "juvenile summits" that will bring southeast suburban police, probation officers, principals and social service representatives to the same table.
Their monthly agenda is likely to include how to pool resources for the top 10 neediest kids from the SPEED special-education cooperative in Chicago Heights and its feeder districts.
The conversation could go this way: "Johnny Doe was incarcerated over the weekend, and now he's back at school. What can be done to help him at school and at home to get him back on track?" Or this way: "The school social worker was talking to Johnny Doe last week about an argument with another teen. How can we prevent this from escalating into a gang fight in the community?"
McNulty said these conversations happen on occasion now, but typically they are brief or are between a child and an adult rather than two adults.
She estimates a quarter of the kids in her 100-student high school are involved in the juvenile justice system. It is not uncommon for a student to come to school wearing an electronic bracelet or after missing 10 days of school while in juvenile jail. Educators don't always get an explanation, which makes their job more difficult.
"We are trying to be proactive and support the kids so they can go on to college and the military and the world of work," McNulty said.
Stuttley said youths picked up for arson, weapons or sex crimes can be incarcerated two to six weeks while waiting for a psychological evaluation by a county clinician. He would like to call on school psychologists so the kids can be processed faster. He hopes the summit will accomplish that.
"One of the worst things you can do is hold a kid at Audy Home. ... It's like juvenile county jail," he said.
Nationally and locally, juvenile crime statistics have been on the decline after peaking in the mid- to late 1990s.
The 6th District in Markham has filed more juvenile petitions so far this year than last year at this time.
Between January and June 2005, 281 petitions were filed, compared with 334 already this year.
Fewer cases have been diverted to mediation or other resolutions, 341 compared with 235.
"What this tells me is that the charges are more severe," Stuttley said.
The first summit will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday in the auditorium of Prairie State College.

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