Teens, repeat offenders released early from Benton Franklin juvenile detention

Tri-City Herald staffNovember 4, 2012 

— Five days after a 17-year-old boy got out of detention early to make room for another juvenile, he was back behind bars on allegations he had sex with a young teen girl.

Benton County prosecutors objected to the Kennewick boy’s release in the first place, noting his gang ties and his participation in an intensive supervision program.

But they were overruled by a judge who was left to decide which juvenile on a list of Tri-City offenders presented the least potential risk to community safety.

The teen is just one example prosecutors have used to highlight the crisis situation at the Benton-Franklin juvenile detention center when the Kennewick facility’s population reaches 35 kids.

Some months, early releases only occurred a few times. But this summer, officials were faced with a daily decision.

There also were times when the facility did not have any low-risk kids in custody, and officials had to pick which high-risk youth presented the least risk to the community.

“It was getting worse and worse,” said Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller. “We were starting to see situations where people were released and they were going out and committing new crimes.”

When the overcrowding hit a critical level in August, 44 teens were let out early. Eighteen of those teens had gang ties and 15 were serving original sentences on a criminal conviction.

Combined, the teens let out of detention in August short of completing their terms had a history of 18 violent felonies, 39 property-related felonies, 199 misdemeanor offenses, 196 probation violations and 141 warrants.

The 17-year-old boy was serving a 25-day sentence for a probation violation and possessing stolen property.

He was released five days early Aug. 23 and moved in with his 13-year-old girlfriend’s family. Notes in his probation file show he was not to be released to them because of the “a possible inappropriate relationship” with the girl.

Five days later he was arrested for allegedly having sex with the girl “during the time he should have been in detention,” Miller said in an email to county and law enforcement officials.

He ended up with a new charge of second-degree child rape.

The boy has a criminal history that includes possession of stolen property, rioting, making false statements to police, two counts of fourth-degree assault, five counts each of malicious mischief and third-degree theft, vehicle prowling and possessing less than 40 grams of marijuana. He also had 16 probation violations and 16 previous warrants.

Documents presented to the Benton County commissioners gave details on some of the following early releases in August:

-- A 13-year-old serving an original sentence for attempting to elude was released. The teen has a criminal history for eluding police, driving without a license, possessing a stolen car, assaulting a law enforcement officer, fourth-degree assault and two counts of disorderly contact. The gang-involved teen also had four prior probation violations and three warrants.

-- A 17-year-old was let out early while serving a sentence for unlawful imprisonment with a history of three fourth-degree assaults, two unlawful imprisonments and three malicious mischief charges.

-- A 16-year-old was released while serving an original sentence for second-degree burglary, with a history of 17 misdemeanors, six probation violations and five warrants. Some past convictions included taking a vehicle without permission, residential burglary, reckless burning, driving without a license and possessing less than 40 grams of marijuana.

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