Bracelets track every movement

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By Don Pace

Wherever you go, they know where you are — your exact location.

If you get in trouble, the state may require that you wear an ankle bracelet. It’s not the fashionable kind; it’s the one with a global positioning system that tracks and records your every move.

During a recent court hearing, one young man couldn’t dispute the fact that he had burglarized three separate homes while wearing the ankle bracelet. The prosecution was able to tell the judge the time, the exact location and every move the 16-year-old made while committing the crimes.

Instead of sending juvenile offenders to jail, the ankle bracelet is just one of the many tools used by the Juvenile Probation and Parole Office to help kids get back on track.

The JPPO is just one arm of the state Children, Youth and Families Department, which is the third largest agency in the state behind the Health and Transportation departments. CYFD provides an array of prevention, intervention, rehabilitative and after-care services to New Mexico children and their families.

“Janna Lopez and other juvenile probation-parole officers try to exhaust all possibilities to keep families together to help them get their lives together. When that isn’t possible we come into the courtroom and have to ask the judge to take the next step of consequences,” said Deborah Martinez, a spokeswoman for CYFD.

“It’s a sad thing when you see families realize, this is it, the next step is not a good step. We’ve given you every chance, and you can’t do it. So on the front end, when your child is missing school you should think about what that could lead to. And really try, go above and beyond with your family to talk or seek out help. We have services and referrals for service right here at CYFD right here in Las Vegas,” Martinez said.

Janna Lopez, a juvenile probation officer, said kids get in different kinds and levels of trouble, adding that she handles every case with an open mind.

“Of course there would be more supervision with my more violent offenders, but I talk to every client the same. To me, they’re all children — no matter what offense. I treat all my kids with respect, and I get it back,” Lopez said.

Lopez said juvenile probation officers are not here to punish children; the officer’s job is to monitor kids and make sure they are complying with any court order and to coordinate services.

Lopez said her caseload varies from graffiti to shoplifting to murder.

Lopez distinguished between a serious youthful offender and someone who shoplifts.

“A serious youthful offender is someone who can be tried as an adult for such crimes as murder and sexual assault or if the judge doesn’t think the person is amenable to rehabilitation,” Lopez said.

Lopez said some local cases are referred to the Youth Development and Diagnostic Center, a locked facility in Albuquerque.

“They are sent there for 15 days for a medical and psychological evaluation, which helps the judge determine if the child will be placed on probation or commit the child for a long-term or short-term commitment,” Lopez said.

“We try to prepare kids to become responsible and productive citizens,” Martinez said. “Tough love all the time isn’t the way; we haven’t seen that work in New Mexico or in the country. There are consequences. I don’t think wearing an ankle bracelet or being referred to community corrections is fun.”

CYFD Secretary Dorian Dodson was in Las Vegas recently on a listening tour and spoke about her department’s emphasis on starting the Missouri model and changing the name to Cambiar New Mexico.

“The philosophy being that it is not good to warehouse kids in large facilities. It’s good to keep kids in their community so that they are part of their community, even when they are committed in secure facilities — so we are looking at downsizing the facilities,” Dodson said.

Dodson said the first one to be downsized was the Springer Boys School.

“We could not warehouse kids in a remote area and then expect their families to be a part of their lives, and we’re still looking at where in the state we should be. We want community sites around the state so that kids can be close to their families,” Dodson said.

Dodson said Las Vegas is a very important hub and her department is looking closely at the city as a place to possibly add more CYFD facilities.