We have to rethink the entire way to we fight crime and deal with our criminal justice system in our city. We can’t do anything locally about stopping the war on drugs or ending poverty in America. But we can reform local systems in our control to change people’s lives, build safe communities and make families whole.
Thirty seven years ago I was a street club worker. In today’s parlance we would be called gang workers. The Department of Parks and Recreation hired ex-felons, street corner guys, athletes and young social workers as street workers. They assigned you to a neighborhood. Your office was the corner. You worked from 2 to 12 PM and your jobs was to stop juvenile crime and create programs for youth on the street. I created recreation centers in churches, started a team, a theater group and counseling programs.
My next job was as a counselor at Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI). Before going to court, first- and second-time juvenile non-violent offenders would come to us for six to twelve months of intensive individual, group and family counseling. They received training in how to work at a job and GED prep.
Lives were turned around. The recidivism rate PTI was amazing. These programs were effective and powerful.
What I am proposing is that the city, state, philanthropies and businesses spend millions of dollars in gang prevention and youth intervention. Hire, train and supervise hundreds of ex-felons to work in the streets with youth and families. Take the health department experiment of Operation Safe Streets and expand it city-wide. In one sector where OSS is working there hasn’t been a murder in a year. We don’t have time to do this piecemeal.
Why wouldn’t the Department of Juvenile Services, Probation and Juvenile Courts take a model that was so successfully used three decades ago to put first and second time offenders into community programs that work? It needs to do so now.
We do not have time to try these programs experimentally or in piecemeal fashion. We are facing an emergency. We are facing a crisis. We can get a handle on this and make dramatic, positive change if we have the will, if the city, state agencies and their allies in business and philanthropy have the will. NOW.