New Mexico State University's Criminal Justice Society Alpha Phi Sigma held their 4th annual criminal justice conference focusing on juvenile rehabilitation.
Xavier Torres is a former juvenile offender from Dona Ana County; he says he started down the wrong path after his parents divorced.
“Early on in my adolescence and my teenage years,” Torres said. “I was rebellious, out of control, amiss, just looking for more excitement, more thrill, so I was taking more risks in my life. Drinking, drugs, relationships, just trying to look for something to fill kind of this pain, this brokenness.”
His risks kept getting more daring until he and friends were inspired by the columbine shooting.
“We dressed in black, black ski masks, black sweater, everything,” Torres said. “We had gloves, I had a pipe, my friend had a bat, and my other friend had a tire iron. So, we went into our school to beat up another student because about a week, two weeks prior his gang jumped our friend. So, we were going to retaliate, we were going to get back, but we want to do it even bigger. We want to make a statement. So, we went into our school, we were told where he would be and he wasn't in class.”
He was caught and sent to the juvenile detention center, where Torres says he found religion and decided to change his life. He says once his attitude changed he let people in to help him.
“From then on things did start to change,” Torres said. “And doors started to open, opportunities started to present themselves, and when I look back now what was happening was my attitude, my heart, my mind was starting to change.”
Torres left jail, and went on to get his Master's degree.
Judge Fernando Macias, the Chief Justice for the State's 3rd Judicial District Court says more resources need to be allocated early in life to prevent children from entering the system.
“Here in Dona Ana County,” Macias said. “There are certain geographic areas that contribute the greatest number of children, and it's really a question of mobilizing the school district, our local governments, the children youth and families department, law enforcement to be really trying to service all of those children in that geographic area, trying to work with them, helping raise them. Many are in single parent homes, many are being raised by grandparents, we know the danger signs, we should be responding to them, much earlier then them coming into the juvenile justice system.”
Macias says they also need to work on strengthening the school system.
“As early as coming into kindergarten,” Macias said. “We know what children already are at the greatest risk of entering the juvenile justice system. So, it's really a question of systemically ensuring by the third grade not that they can read, but that they can absolutely on track with the late level of education there receiving. I think to me the lack of progress in the educational system is one of the greatest contributing factors to juvenile delinquency.”
Jeremy Baldillez is a Psychologist with the Las Cruces Public Schools, working mostly at the CrossRoads Alternative School for students facing long-term suspension. Baldillez says students he sees usually have a hard past.
“There's a lot of trauma that has been involved in their life,” Baldillez said. “We talked about some of those factors in their life, maybe lack of a parent, consistent parents, drugs, alcohol, some of those variables that play into their lives that have an effect on their education, and their ability to succeed in their academic environment.”
Baldillez says many times its one person that makes a difference in a child's life.
“Hopefully there will be one individual in their life be it at the school or at home,” Balidillez said. “That they are able to trust. Provide them consistent guidance, and validation as a human being. Saying good morning to them, saying we missed you the day before, telling them good job, and also allowing them to be accountable to their actions.”
Xavier Torres says it's important for people to allow former juvenile offenders to have a second chance.
“You consider everything,” Torres said. “You know yes they consider the past, and all the offenses, but they consider the present and the future, accomplishments, breakthroughs, certificates, graduations, diplomas, you consider all that as well when your making your decisions.”