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VEGAS LOST: Judge Voy making life-changing courtroom decisions for troubled teens

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“Dear Judge Voy.”

The voice is young and shaken. The teenager squeezes the paper in front of him and continues.

“In this week that I’ve been here, I’ve been asked a lot of questions. What’s changed? What’s going to be different? Most importantly, I learned you can’t answer those questions with words. You have to take steps in the right direction. To get you going in the right path.”

He’s a frequent flyer in court. In trouble again, now facing the possibility of a stay in an adult prison. He’s trying to convince Judge William Voy to send him to San Diego to live with his aunt.

“I’ve been locked up a total of 10 months. I’ll never be able to get that time back. I know you’re looking at my charges and I can’t get that time back. That’s who I was, but that part of me died when I decided to turn myself in a month ago.”

His letter ends, and a long pause comes over the judge.

Voy ultimately agrees to send him to California.

VEGAS LOST: Addressing issues within our justice system

In Judge William Voy’s courtroom, the difference between adult prison and a stay in a juvenile facility is decided.

After sending a girl who was caught giving the codes to a safe at work to a former coworker to Caliente instead of through the adult system, Voy was blunt: "You’re getting a hell of a break here, you understand that right? I mean an amazing break."

This is a day in his court. Judge Voy decides certification cases; they’re the kids the state wants to send to the adult system. The cases are complicated; the kids have broken families, trouble at home, many have mental health issues. Their crimes are often violent. Increasingly so.

One 16-year-old described the day he rifled through the backpack of another kid who was getting robbed at gunpoint.

“I was walking to the heights and he was robbing someone.”

“About two years ago, I saw a dramatic increase in the number of kids committing violent crimes,” Voy told us. “The thought was that we’d see the spike and it would go down again, and it hasn't.”

That trend is not unheard of. A spike in juvenile crime occurred in the mid-1990’s, another in the early 2000’s. This one is lingering. But statistics are hard to come by. The state says they filed adult charges against 168 kids in 2016 and 199 last year.

We’re told those are just estimates because there are no real statistics. No system to track these cases. In court, it is not black and white; there is a nuisance here. Each case is different, many of them negotiated in court by defense attorneys and the prosecutors.

But while the cases are different, the outcomes are not. Judge Voy wants a different option. In cases with a young kid and a serious crime, he wrestles with what’s best for the kid and their rehabilitation and some justice for the victim.

Often the two options are a prison sentence, putting teenagers with serious criminals, or a brief 6-month stay in a juvenile facility.

“Here you got a kid committing a horrendous crime, you have victims and you make this decision. Making that on a weekly basis where I have a 15-year-old and a horrendous crime, knowing the likelihood of this kid coming out of the adult system and what he looks like then.” Voy says. “It’s a tough call.”

On this day, Judge Voy will see 15 kids before a lunch recess, then he’ll start again.

Have a story for us? Email VegasLost@news3lv.com.

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