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Tv Review : Juvenile Justice Spotlighted On Kcbs

December 19, 1985|HOWARD ROSENBERG | Times Television Critic

The KCBS program "Juvenile Justice: Cradle and All," airing at 8 tonight on Channel 2, is exactly the kind of commitment that local stations should be demonstrating.

In this age of minidocs and maxischlocks, a prime-time hour documentary focusing on local problems is almost unheard of. And this one (produced and directed by Patrick Dunavan, written by executive producer Jim Kennedy and reported by Jess Marlow) is affecting and interesting to a point, presenting a good survey of the serious problems dragging down our juvenile justice system.

Police and other field professionals share their perspectives on the screen, and we hear the voices of juvenile offenders without seeing their faces. "I'm not bad," one says. "I just got a lot of rage in me." Another demonstrates female pride by recalling how she beat up a 14-year-old boy and took his money. "So girls can do anything boys can do."

From Juvenile Hall to juvenile detention camps ("the end of the line," Marlow says), we hear about a system that is losing the battle to recidivism, a system that is underfinanced, overcrowded and overmatched. "I used to have people in my caseload," says a weary probation officer. "I now have numbers and files."

What "Juvenile Justice" doesn't do is place this sad and important story in a broader context. It presents symptoms--most of which the public is probably already familiar with in a general way--without defining the disease and the root causes. It shows the spilled milk without revealing who kicked over the bucket.

It's a good effort, but one that also does not give sufficient attention to possible alternatives to the present failing system. In the end, it leaves behind a residue of frustration without hope.

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