Over 2 million kids were arrested in 2008 by United States law enforcement agencies. Did you know any of them? It isn't outside the realm of possibilities that you are connected to one of these juveniles or one of the nearly half a million currently on some form of probation. They say your priorities are reflected in how you spend your money and time. Currently, far more is spent on punishing juvenile offenders than preventing their criminal involvement in the first place. If our money is any indication of our priorities, we need to do something to change the current state of juvenile justice, taking a stand to save the youth before they become incarcerated adults.
Historically, whether speaking about juvenile or adult crime, agencies at local, state, and federal level have been more focused on punishment than prevention. Now, because of this, our corrections budgets are through the roof and there's no end in sight. You don't have to look very far to find many examples of states laying off hundreds of teachers while continuing to build prisons. We've created a monstrous criminal justice system whose focus is on the wrong end. Rather than building prisons to incarcerate people after they've committed crimes, wouldn't it make more sense to prevent the criminal behavior in the first place?
New legislation pending in the House and Senate says yes. The Youth Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education Act (Youth PROMISE) is designed to prevent kids from entering the system in the first place. By providing at risk youth with the tools necessary to avoid criminal behavior, this legislation would be a major step in breaking the vicious cycle of incarceration that we have built.
When states and localities talk budgets, corrections is rarely brought up in the media. This is shocking since it often accounts for the majority of spending. It has become the proverbial elephant in the room--an elephant we keep feeding money while ignoring what comes out the other end. Obviously, what comes out the other end is a mess--people who struggle to reenter society and too often return right back to the system that kept them away.
Did you know that the state of California spends $216,000 on each juvenile in the justice system while only spending $8,000 on each student in the Oakland public schools? The Sherriff of neighboring Los Angeles County testified before Congress calling the Youth PROMISE Act "one of the most important pieces of legislation our nation could ever enact." But this isn't just a California problem--it's an everywhere problem. It's a problem that affects parents of troubled youths and those of well adjusted kids too. It's an issue that affects us all as taxpayers and citizens of this country. And it's one that needs to be addressed.
Show your support for the Youth PROMISE Act by signing the petition below. Let lawmakers in Washington know that we value all of the children in this country and would rather see them succeed than become a statistic.
Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography