Thursday, April 19, 2007

Truth, Part 3: Teach the Children Well

This is part 3 of my report on Leadership Ann Arbor's Law Enforcement Day. If you haven't already, you might want to read part 1 and part 2, first.

This afternoon, while grocery shopping I actually witnessed a crime. I had just rounded the corner and I saw a young man grabbing bags of candy from the shelf and stuffing them in his coat. Seeing me, he started heading toward the exit. I followed behind and notified the cashier of the situation. Unfortunately, they were unable to catch up to him before he hopped into a car driven by an accomplice and sped off.

He got away with it this time, but, eventually, he might just get caught. If he's young enough , if there's enough evidence, if he's been caught enough times, and the judge in question takes it seriously enough, then he might end up in Washtenaw County's Juvenile Detention Center.

After visiting the Washtenaw County Jail, right across the parking lot, our tour continued on to the Juvenile Detention Center. What a difference!

Where the jail was almost forty years old, the juvenile facilities were only a little more than four. Where the jail was staffed (at the best of times) by one Washtenaw County Correction Officer per twenty inmates, the juvenile center had one counselor for every ten residents. Where the jail was all hard floors, gray walls, and antiquated equipment, the juvenile center had carpeting, bright colors, and the most modern computer-based control facilities.

Obviously, the detention center is not just a jail for kids.

This facility is designed to educate, foster accountability and responsibility, and, in general, try to turn the residents away from the dark path that they've started down. The counselors help the kids (most ranging from 12 to 17) to deal with anger and hostility. They provide all of the residents with a personalized educational curriculum. They even have an internal economy based on good behavior and meeting their personal goals.

So, what's the biggest problem they have?

Getting the local justice system to actually sentence kids to spend time there. The Center actually has excess capacity. Somehow I think many troubled young people, like my young shoplifter today, would do better with 90 days at the detention center than they would being sent home with Mom and Dad.

But that's just my two cents.

So, have you ever witnessed a crime being committed?

Read the final part.

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