LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) – With another deadly shooting to end 2021, the number of homicides involving juvenile offenders rose to five, consistent with 2018 and 2019, according to statistics from the Lubbock Police Department, and four more than 2020. Lubbock County District Attorney K. Sunshine Stanek says there is a “striking number of violent juvenile offenders,” and her office is making that a target.
“I’m not naive to the striking number of violent juvenile offenders that we have seen here in our community,” Stanek said. “I’ve said it for a number of years. This is one of our targets. Our office has made specific moves and changes to target violent juvenile offenders. One of them being our current juvenile chief who was moved out of a criminal felony court over to our juvenile division, because we wanted that trial experience in our juvenile division to handle those types of cases.”
That’s Ginny Simpson who says while reading cases at the juvenile detention center, she is sometimes in disbelief.
“I spent several years in the adult world on the criminal side and I’m seeing juveniles commit the same crimes that grownups are doing,” Simpson said. “They’re just younger. I’ve seen an uptick in homicides, and sexual assaults, assaults. The nature of the offenses are more and more violent.”
Simpson said the number of juvenile felony cases has been consistent the last couple of years but the number of violent offenses has increased, something they’ve seen across the state of Texas.
Stanek tells KCBD that often with the violent offenders her office uses one of its “greatest tools,” by certifying juveniles as adults. Many of those cases, she says, revolve around drugs and firearms.
“Don’t assume that you’re going to be treated as a juvenile,” Stanek said. “You could just as easily be treated, certified and treated as an adult, and face a life sentence. We have had 15 year olds 16 year olds in this county get very, very lengthy sentences, because of their history and the behavior that they have chosen to engage in. We will continue to pursue those sentences when necessary.”
It’s a process that Stanek says is often out of public view due to the confidentiality of juvenile cases.
“Our juvenile prosecutors are working very hard to get big sentences for juvenile offenders under the restrictions of the law, as the legislature has set it,” Stanek said. “We don’t have the range of punishment that we have on our adult cases. We had several pleas right before Christmas on murder cases for juveniles that were big, lengthy prison sentences and we can’t announce those.”
In accordance with the state’s goal of rehabilitating youth, the Lubbock County DA also seeks to provide offender services.
“Maybe we can change the way they’re thinking or we can address underlying issues that they have going on that might lead to certain activities being committed,” Simpson said. “One of the ways, we try to get kids on probation. We try to get them supervision through the Lubbock County Juvenile Justice Center. That someone is watching out for them. It’s usually one of our first steps, is probation, getting them those services through probation. Then someone’s able to monitor and make sure that they’re taking drug offender classes or they’re home by a certain time or they’re going to school. Those are all things we want them to do, they just might not have that at home.”
Stanek said her office is doing what it can do but also seeks community involvement in order to make a difference, like working with school districts and task forces.
“Our juvenile prosecutors work very closely with them to think about creative ideas, working with the students, being involved with community partners who are agencies that are working with at-risk youth,” Stanek said. “All of that is so very important to the system as a whole.”
Copyright 2022 KCBD. All rights reserved.