Tara Miller’s 15-year-old son had been missing for more than 22 days. The teen, who is not named because of his age, is a runaway with a troubled past and his mother believes its partially the fault of the Department of Juvenile Justice in Pinellas County, Florida.
The teen was arrested for stealing a vehicle and burglarizing cars in January, but he was released. Miller believes her son should have been more harshly punished.
“I was under the impression that stealing cars was illegal and was a crime to which there should be some type of punishment other than being sent home,” she told WFLA.
Miller wants the Department of Juvenile Justice and local police to help rein her son in -- he has gone from stealing cellphones to burglarizing neighbors and she believes the lenient treatment is contributing the escalating crimes.
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“What’s he going to do next?” she said. “He views stealing a vehicle as not really a big deal. That’s not the message the justice system should be sending out to our public, especially our youth.”
Miller is worried her son’s behavior will continue to escalate into violence and that he will either be the victim or the perpetrator. In a comment on WFLA’s story, which was reproduced on WDTN’s website, one person under the pseudonym “run from the gun” wrote: “If I catch him in my home, Pinellas County resident, I will end him. No problem.”
So far, Miller has received a letter to have her son evaluated, but he runs away before Miller can set an appointment.
Mental health counselor Alex Chapunoff said he’s concerned about the lack of repercussions for the teen’s behavior, besides being arrested. “Sometimes if there’s a consequence to a situation to a choice that was made that wasn’t viable, then there could actually be a lesson,” he said.