Dec. 17, 2002 – Some editors and broadcast news directors in the Virgin Islands have begun publishing and airing the names of juvenile delinquents and their parents or guardians because Police Department releases issued in the St. Thomas-St. John district recently started including the identifications.
But Territorial Court Chief Judge Maria Cabret said on Tuesday that there is nothing new about releasing the names of adjudicated delinquents, just a new way of getting the information out to the public.
Adjudicated minors are youths ages 14 to 17 who have been convicted in the Family Court Division of Territorial Court of offenses which would be felonies, had they been tried in regular court at age 18 or older. Some of the offenses that have been listed in the statements issued by police over the last two weeks include assault, armed robbery, illegal weapons possession and credit card fraud.
The releases have carried a statement at the bottom which reads: "The release of the names of minors 14 years and older and their parents is a requirement of the Family Division of the Territorial Court and the V.I. Police Department as per the Virgin Islands Code laws."
Attorney General Iver Stridiron said earlier this month that it was the decision of Territorial Court Judge Rhys Hodge, appointed to the Family Court bench in September, to put the law into effect. (See "Police naming convicted youths per court order".) Hodge declined to comment on his ruling for this article.
Most of the journalists interviewed for this article said they recognized — as did Hodge — that the law providing for disclosure of the names of adjudicated minors had been around for eight years.
"I'm not surprised, because I believe the law has been around, but it has not been implemented," Will Jones, managing editor of The Avis, said.
Shaun A. Pennington, publisher of the V.I. Source newspapers, said: "The Source doesn't report most incidents of crime; and we wouldn't start now just so we could name names of minors. However, if minors are involved in major violent crimes, I feel it is in the best interest of the community to identify the perpetrators."
"I'm in agreement with it because it's been a long-standing situation on the books in the Virgin Islands," WSTA-AM ("Lucky 13") news director Lee Carle said, adding that he is naming names as long as they have been declared adjudicated minors by the court.
Knight Quality Stations news director Jean Greaux said it was decided to broadcast the names on WVWI ("Radio One") and its sister FM stations "based on our interpretation of the V.I. Code and after consultation with our lawyer."
WSVI-TV (Channel 8) news director Wes Smalls said he had mixed emotions about publicizing the names of minor offenders. "I would say yes, but that depends on circumstances," he said.
WMNG-FM ("Isle 95") news director Alvin Gee said he began announcing the names of delinquents as soon as the releases first started coming through, but he noticed that only St. Thomas youth were being named.
WRRA ("Radio Reef') news director Alex Navarro said he hadn't seen any releases identifying minors. "I guess that would be for St. Thomas only, but I don't see how this could be," the St. Croix station staffer said. But he gave his view on publishing of names: "I think if it's a major crime, they should print the names, but not at age 14. Age 15 to 17, yes. But I think age 13 and 14 is too young."
Police Chief Novelle Francis said the Family Court Division on St. Croix, where Patricia Steele is the judge, also could make information on adjudicated youths available to the police, who in turn could include it in press releases coming out of the St. Croix district. But he said a system needs to be in place for doing so. "We need to create a mechanism where the court can provide us with some feedback as to the disposition of these cases," he said.
But Cabret says the information about minors has been available to the police, the news media and the public all along. When the law was passed in 1994, she said, court administrators developed a form to be filled out by Family Court judges for each case on which they ruled. The information has been kept routinely in a log book at Family Court in each district, she said, and anyone can have a look at what's in it.
The only thing that has changed, Cabret said, is that Hodge took the extra step of ordering the information in the St. Thomas-St. John district passed directly to the police.
"What the law requires is that we release the names of minors and their parents," Cabret said. It remains up to the news media themselves to decide what, if anything, to do with the information.
Professionals who interact with wayward teen-agers on a daily basis have differing feelings about the youths' identities being publicized.
Attorney General Iver Stridiron has voiced support for the practice, saying that parents might be motivated by the prospect of negative peer pressure to better supervise and discipline their children. "It's part of a crackdown on crime. I endorse it 100 percent," he said recently.
But one person who asked not to be identified shared a contrasting view. Some families where delinquents grow up have fallen apart so badly — or were so shaky to begin with — that parents or guardians can neither anticipate nor respond to the idea that their children's behavior might reflect badly on them, this person said.
Others said youngsters deserve a measure of protection from public scrutiny as long as they are making an effort to reform their behavior. Still others said the increasingly severe nature of crimes being committed by the young justifies public notification, because the people who encounter them in daily life may have legitimate safety concerns.
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