5/12 from Marc

Juvenile Justice

The Sun story on Saturday May 10, 2008 of the Juvenile Justice Center being out of control is not new news (read it here). The teachers are fearful and have had enough so they stepped up to the Governor.

Last year, we reported on the Marc Steiner Show about the potential for an explosion and the loss of control at the center.

Ray Cook, who works with gangs and inner-city kids in trouble with their lives and the law, through his program On Our Shoulders, was hired by juvenile services after meeting Secretary Donald DeVore on my program earlier in 2007. Ray is one of those unique figures who can walk into a situation and can instantly demand respect and trust on the toughest corners, with young people deeply involved in Bloods, Crips, and other gangs. He is from those streets. He has hustled, led criminal operations and been jailed on those streets. He turned his life around. Now, he’s obsessed with saving the children of our city. He is a father figure to kids around Edmondson Avenue and now down in Cherry Hill.

At any rate, Ray took a job with DJS because he thought he could make a difference. Secretary Donald Devore, who I truly believe wants to and is trying to change the system, hired him because he knew Ray could make a difference. Ray, and another man he brought in to the Juvenile Detention, Dante Wilson, who runs Reclaiming Our Children, (ROCAP,) had the hardest cases in that joint listening, weeping and talking and on the move, the slow grueling move, to come face to face with their emotions and turn their lives around.

Ray and I spoke everyday that he worked at the detention center. It was tearing him up inside. He kept saying to me “Man, it is out of control. They won’t listen (talking about the bureaucrats.) It is off the hook.” He quit in frustration.

Ray Cook is not a company man but an effective man who knows how to move children who are deeply damaged by the streets and poverty, in a way most with all the graduate degrees in the world cannot.

This is not to disparage all the teachers, social workers, counselors, and therapists working with our kids who have been busted, detained, arrested, and jailed. It is a process where all parties and skills are needed to work together to salvage our collective future.

It is to say, this is not new news. They would not listen to Ray and the others.

The solutions are right in front of us. Maybe the Juvenile Justice system ought to turn the school and therapeutic sections of that institution over to men and women who can run it successfully. Bring in an independent non-profit designed to do the job right. Give them the independence and power to do it right. Hire people who come from the streets themselves, who have track records of successfully working with children in trouble. Don’t be afraid to hire ex-cons and others who can make a difference.

Maybe the state should think twice before building more maximum-security juvenile institutions. Maybe we should start investing in community programs, halfway houses and community corrections facilities instead of prisons. Maybe we should put money into recreation centers and after school programs, turning our neighborhood schools into community schools that operate 24/7. Maybe we should invest the resources we have now in new directions. Maybe spend a little more in the right and most effective places. Maybe the state government and bureaucrats should start listening to and heading the advice of the Ray Cooks of our world.

Then maybe we can start to turn this thing around.