Court Assails Program For Juveniles 2 Were Charged While In The Program. A Probe Says They Were Too Dangerous To Have Been Eligible.

Posted: October 11, 1995

TRENTON — One youth had been charged with bringing cocaine to school. The other had been involved in a prison riot.

Both had been accused in the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl, who declined to press charges because she feared retaliation.

Both were serving jail sentences for assault at the time they were released earlier this year into a community program designed to free space in youth detention centers. And both had absconded from the program shortly after enrolling.

Looking back, there were plenty of signs that, once out on the street, M.G. and G.C. constituted a huge risk. But authorities heeded none of those signs until the youths were arrested in August on charges of murdering Ronald Greene Jr., 16, of Camden.

A Supreme Court investigation into the events leading to those arrests released yesterday concluded that the youths, whose names are being withheld by police, never should have been admitted to the Juvenile Intensive Supervision Program in the first place.

Edwin Stier, a former state and federal prosecutor who conducted the investigation for Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz, said background checks overlooked a pattern of criminal behavior, including assault charges pending against one of the youths, that should have disqualified them

from the program.

Moreover, Stier said, both youths frequently violated the terms of the program by breaking curfews and failing to fulfill educational and community- service obligations. In addition, one of the youths failed a drug test while in the program.

Warrants for their arrests were not issued until more than a week after they had dropped out and had failed to contact their supervising probation officers.

"I indicated to the chief justice that I thought there were problems with the program," Stier said. "There were several problems that we tried to describe, including the preadmissions investigation, which was deficient, and the absence of schooling or employment or vocational training and the lack of documentation of violations."

Stier's probe was limited to the two cases. A court-appointed committee is looking into the entire program, which oversees 110 youths who have been released from detention centers.

But the disclosures about the two Camden youths is bound to add to the heated debate already under way about how the state supervises criminals who have been released into the community.

In February, Robert "Mudman" Simon, a convicted killer and a former member of the Warlocks motorcycle gang, was released on parole from a Pennsylvania prison and moved to New Jersey with the approval of New Jersey parole officials. Eleven weeks later, Simon was charged in the slaying of a Franklin Township police officer.

In June, Darnell Collins went on a violent rampage through New Jersey and New York, killing seven people. Collins, who was killed in a shootout with police in North Jersey, told his parole officer the day before the killing spree that he needed drug treatment.

New Jersey officials have acknowledged sending hundreds of convicts on probation and parole to drug-treatment centers in other states, mainly Pennsylvania and New York. In not notifying other states that it was sending the prisoners, New Jersey violated a longstanding interstate agreement.

Supervision of released convicts is divided among two state agencies, and both have caught plenty of criticism of late.

The state Department of Corrections oversees people released from prison, while the court system has responsibility for people who are convicted of crimes but are placed on probation.

The one exception is the intensive-supervision program. The program, which is administered by the Supreme Court, takes youths coming directly out of detention centers.

M.G., 17, of Woodbury, and G.C., 17, of Camden, were arrested in August and charged with the murder of Ronald Greene.

Investigators said at the time that they believed that Greene was gunned down because of an earlier dispute over money. Greene was shot to death the evening of Aug. 9 at Norris and Morton Streets while driving a black Chevrolet that had been stolen during a carjacking earlier that day.

"The investigation discloses serious program deficiencies in these two cases," Wilentz said. "They include failure to adequately investigate both juveniles prior to admission, failure to assure that there are structured activities participated in by the juveniles after their admission, a lack of required community team participation . . . and a failure to respond to signs that both these juveniles posed a substantial risk of absconding."

Despite uncovering problems in the program, Stier said there were important reasons the program, or programs like it, should be continued.

"We haven't seemed to have turned the corner," Stier said. "We have got to find other ways of keeping people out of institutions. Anything we can do to help juvenile or adult offenders try and break patterns of criminal behavior, we ought to try to do."

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