Naughty or nice, juveniles get gifts

By Josh Rabe Published: January 2, 2008
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Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus Commission.

And the director of a state agency that oversees troubled youth wants to do away with it.

For more than 70 years, the mission of the jolly commission has been to bring a Christmas gift to juveniles in state custody.

The idea was the brainchild of then state budget officer, R.R. Owens, who visited an orphanage in 1935 and learned the children had no Christmas presents.

As a result, Owens created a three-member commission to raise private donations to make sure every ward of the state wouldn't go empty-handed on Christmas.

Who receives gifts?
What started as a noble mission today verges on the absurd, given that 40 percent of those wayward youths are now criminals over the age of 18, said Gene Christian, Office of Juvenile Affairs director.

"Everyone we are talking about, are people who committed criminal acts,” Christian said.

Christian said he could only think of one 10-year-old being held by his agency — for murder.

The director said he wouldn't be opposed to providing Christmas gifts to the small number of young children in state custody. About 8 percent of children under the agency's supervision are 10 or 11, and only a minority of those live in full-time state custody, mostly in group homes and mental health-related settings.