Watch CBS News

Allegheny County's juvenile electronic monitor program does little to prevent violence

Allegheny County's juvenile electronic monitor program does little to prevent violence
Allegheny County's juvenile electronic monitor program does little to prevent violence 04:19

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- If the consequences were not so serious, you could call Allegheny County's juvenile electronic monitor program a joke.  

In the past two years, hundreds of teenagers have gone AWOL -- cutting their ankle bracelets off or letting the batteries run out, thumbing their nose at justice. The program does little or nothing to prevent violence or protect others from becoming victims. 

The failure of the electronic monitoring program can be seen in the death toll. 

In Carrick, 14-year-old Nigel Thompson, wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle, is arrested and charged with the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Damonte Hardrick. 

In Allentown, 15-year-old Mohamed Hussien, wanted in connection with another fatal shooting, is shot and killed himself and is found to have a monitoring bracelet on his ankle.

And in Duquesne, a 14-year-old wearing a bracelet shoots another in the back of the head. 

Five teenagers who had been given electronic monitors were subsequently arrested again and are now in the Allegheny County Jail on homicide charges. And it failed protect others given bracelets who were shot and killed.

"It's failing on both sides, because these kids nowadays, they're letting their monitors go dead so they can't be tracked. Nothing happens because we don't have anywhere to put them," said street outreach counselor Staci Ford.

Without a juvenile detention center, judges and district magistrates have no option but to sentence teenagers accused of violent crimes to wear a monitoring bracelet to track their whereabouts. But it is a system without repercussions. 

On the North Side, Shawn Davis, one of the teenagers accused of shooting up a funeral in Brighton Heights and sending six people to the hospital, sent a video to friends showing how easily he could remove his home detention bracelet from his leg. 

"They think it's a joke. A lot of them aren't taking it serious because they know that they can either let them go dead or some of them have already cut them off. They just got a new one. There's no consequences," Ford said. 

An astounding number of teenagers on the monitors simply go AWOL by dismantling the bracelets. And if they're found out, they simply get a new monitor. According to the county court system, in the past two years, there were 392 incidents where juveniles cut off their bracelets or let the batteries die. Seventy-eight of these juveniles did this multiple times, some being connected and reconnected as many as five to seven times.  

And Ford says it's making a mockery of the juvenile justice system. 

"We're putting them right back in the same situations. We talk about changing their behaviors -- people, places and things -- we can't do that without a system in place. This system is failing so what are we going to do about it?" Ford said. 

To Pittsburgh Police Chief Larry Scirotto, a first step is obvious: reopen the Shuman Juvenile Detention Center.

"I don't care who runs it. That's not for me to determine," Scirotto said. 

"All I can tell you is we need it. And we needed it a year ago. We needed it two years ago," he added. 

Shuman is currently undergoing renovations in anticipation of reopening in late April under the private company Adelphoi, though county council has challenged the legality of that contract award. Scirotto says the center will give those offenders "a time out" from life on the street.  

"Detention is meant to be an opportunity for intervention. And in that intervention, you have the ability to impact young people whose lives are going in a direction that's not favorable to society," Scirotto said. 

Through her spokesperson, Allegheny County Chief Executive Sara Innamorato says she will not stand in the way of the reopening of Shuman but will be forming an oversight board to ensure young offenders get the rehabilitation services they need. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.