Sex crimes, abuse of youths cause alarm
One official said the youth sex offenders are 'violent, graphic and dangerous.'
MERCER, Pa. -- Nearly one-fifth of county youths are receiving services as a result of neglect or abuse. And an increasing number are dangerous sex offenders, county juvenile officials say.
A discussion of county budget pressures Thursday before Mercer County commissioners revealed a situation that is bad and growing worse.
Beverly Burroughs, executive director of Mercer County Children and Youth Services, said that 18 percent of all county youths are part of her agency's caseload because they are either abused or neglected.
"There is something very wrong with that," she said, adding, "We have parents raising children who are not raising them responsibly."
In addition, Burrows said a growing area of concern is the increase in youthful sex offenders. She has in her caseload 10 sex offenders under the age of 10 who have been sexually abused and now are dangerous to others.
Mark Benedetto, chief of juvenile probation, said that in 2002 there were 28 sex offenders under 18 under county jurisdiction. In past years, he said it would be unusual to have 28 in five years. He categorized the sex offenders as "violent, graphic, and dangerous" youths.
One offender also was mentally retarded, a combination of problems which made it impossible to place him in any facility in Pennsylvania. He was finally placed in a Virginia institution, which costs $500 per day. Burrows said the county will be reimbursed by the state for most of that.
Under state law, however, the county must provide monthly parental visits to the boy. In this case, this means the county pays for monthly airline tickets for the mother.
The county bears only 20 to 40 percent of the cost for treatment of juvenile offenders, with the remainder picked up by state and federal sources, Burrows said. But with increased caseloads, the county's contribution is always rising.
Benedetto said about 400 youth pass through juvenile probation each year. He said he has been able to obtain grants to provide more staff without affecting the county budget.