Archive for June 12th, 2012

12
Jun
12

a better way

Andrew was just 11 when he helped kill a man. He was one of a group of eight boys, ranging in age from 19 to 11, who were bored one summer evening and decided to go out and beat someone to death. He whacked the victim in the head several times with a croquet mallet. Andrew was tried as a juvenile and sent to a juvenile rehabilitation facility until age 21.

Crystal was 13 when she ran away from her abusive home. A pimp found her on the street and soon was making big profits off her. When she was 14 the pimp made her help him kill a “john”. She was tried as a juvenile and sentenced to 5 years in a juvenile rehabilitation facility.

Anthony was 13 when he was arrested for selling crack on a downtown street. His mom was a heroin addict, and he “worked” to support her habit and pay the rent and bills. He got a year in a juvenile rehabilitation facility.

Giselle was 11 when her father decided to pimp her out to support his heroin habit. She would not cooperate, so he forcibly got her addicted as well. She was 14 when she was arrested for prostitution. While in juvie she kicked heroin cold turkey. She received two years for solicitation.

I got to know each of these kids, and many more, while volunteering at their juvenile facility here in Washington State. You see, Washington does it differently. We rarely try juveniles as adults and never put them in adult prison. Our Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration is part of the Department of Social and Health Services. It is not a correctional service.

How we deal with juveniles who commit crimes tells much about our society. In many states it seems people are of the opinion that a criminal is a criminal and must be punished as severely as possible, regardless of age or stage of development. The latest fashion in juvenile “justice” these days is to try kids as adults and send them to adult prison, where close confinement and brutal physical punishment complete the job of totally destroying them, both physically and spiritually.

A boy who kills in a group frenzy, a girl who sells her body to survive, are these hardened monsters who cannot be salvaged and must be confined in cages for the rest—or a good part—of their lives? I don’t think so, and neither does a majority of the people and political leadership in Washington State. Even our prosecutors are reluctant to try kids as adults. To make doubly sure, our legislature recently restricted the ability of the courts to remand juvenile offenders to the adult system. Our law recognizes that developmental stage diminishes the culpability of children who commit crimes.

So how does Washington rehabilitate, rather than punish, juvenile offenders?  In the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration’s integrated treatment model, trained counselors teach the kids behavioral skills and give them tools to help them change their behavior, thoughts, emotions, and reactions to daily situations and challenges. The kids learn to handle and tolerate distress, solve problems, and manage their anger. The facilities also provide a full range of academic and vocational programs, health care, and mental health services.

There is discipline of course, but no physical violence unless a kid becomes violent. And after every incident a counselor sits down with the child and helps him or her assess their behavior and consider other ways he or she could have reacted to the situation that led to the incident.

The administration also encourages the community to participate in juvenile rehabilitation. They invite volunteers to mentor kids, to take an active part in the substance abuse program, and to provide positive examples of  responsible adults. When I go and interact with “my kids,” we talk about everything imaginable, review their progress in learning basic social skills, read aloud together, and play and have fun. I am proud of the fact that a few years ago the kids at the facility declared this 60+ year old codger from Brooklyn the world’s oldest teenager!

I’ve become involved with the Redemption Project because I have seen and heard how brutally kids who commit crimes are treated in other locales. And I have actually experienced a far better, more humane, and far more civilized way of dealing with these broken kids. All kids, no matter what they have done, deserve a second chance to become productive, socialized adults.

~ Frank Manning

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Frank Manning is a native of Brooklyn, NY, who moved to Washington State 14 years ago. He soon heeded the state agency’s call for community volunteers in juvenile facilities. Since 2002 he has been a volunteer in Washington’s juvenile rehabilitation facility for girls and younger boys.

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Groove of the Day  

Listen to Tim Hanauer performing “Dream a Better Way”

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