Kids can make big mistakes. The W. Haywood Burns Institute knows that, but a night in jail isn’t always the answer. “Across the country, low-level offending youth of color and poor youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice systems are often jailed even though they do not pose a public safety risk,” said Lauren Jones, Communications Assistant at W. Haywood Burns Institute. According to the Burns Institute the decision to detain is often based on perception or lack of alternative programs.
Real Life Change:
Michael , 17, got in trouble a couple times for drugs. The Burns Institute helps local community programs like the Wraparound program in Santa Cruz, California. The Wraparound program is funded by foster care funds from the state. “Instead of removing a child from his/her home and using funds to pay out of home care or treatment, those funds fo directly to the counties to fund the in-home program,” said said Julia Feldman, Deputy Probation Officer III and Wraparound Supervisor in Watsonville, California.
“When I was 13, I was picked up on a drug charge and I have been on probation ever since,” said Michael. It got his attention, the drastic way. “But I got involved in the Wraparound program and it taught me and my Dad how to work hard and communicate. We met every Friday, and we really opened up. The more we worked with them the more they worked with us.” For Michael, the program fostered a relationship for him and his father. “My father was an addict, and so was I. The meetings taught us how to not be addicts and him how to be a better Dad.”
Alternative programs like the Wraparound program work to keep children at home when trouble starts. “The best thing the Wraparound program does is help kids stay home. Statistics show that when we remove kids from their homes, problems escalate,” said Feldman. “The W. Haywood Burns Institute is entwined in everything we do.”
“Without Wraparound I would be running the streets,” said Michael. “I’d be without my dad and I would be doing my own thing. Before, I couldn’t communicate and was not good with relationships.”
Youth of color comprise 38 percent of the youth population in the U.S, yet comprise nearly 70 percent of those who are confined. According to Burns Institute that is because a youth of color is arrested, charged and incarcerated more than a white youth for similar conduct, a majority of which are minor status offenses such as consumption of alcohol, tobacco, smoking, truancy or running away from home.
State and federal funding is available and requires states to deal with the known issues with disproportionate minority contact, but how to deal with the issue is the constant question. W. Haywood Burns Institute helps answer those questions and gives officials applicable solutions.
The change comes when looking at the situation at hand with a different view. Shalinee Hunter is the Disproportionate Minority Contact Coordinator for the state of California. Her job is to make sure funds are being used to make change. “Shalinee is in control of a lot of money, and the DMC coordinator pretty much dictates how the work will go,” said Jones. “ Since meeting our execute director, James Bell, and seeing the work being done in the 12 sites we work in all over the state of California, she has seen her perspective has changed when looking at the issues through the lens of DMC.”
“I started working in corrections 15 years ago,” said Hunter. “When I went to work as a probation officer I never engaged in a conversation around who we were approaching and who we were detaining.”
The “ah-ha” moment came for Hunter when she realized that the some of the policies support the biases. “Unfortunately our policy structure supports these biases. It is unintentional, but if you do a truancy sweep in an urban area you are going to automatically pick up more kids of color. However, that does not mean that there is not a problem in a suburb. The suburb kids could be in the house playing video games, but still truant,” said Hunter.
Today, Michael is on track and will graduate from the program in two months. “People are always asking me if I wish I hadn’t made mistakes,” said Michael. “But it made me the person I am today. I am on track to good things. I am going to Cabrillo Community College. I am getting grants, things that support me to make me want to do good. I am a really good cook, and I want to master in business, but my probation officer thinks I could be a lawyer.”
The W. Haywood Burns Institute believes that justice should not be doled out based on anecdote, which is why they focus on a data-driven approach. “Listening to what the numbers tell us and then digging deeper into the data that is suspect is integral to creating a more equal and fair juvenile justice system for Michael and the thousands of kids just like him in every jurisdiction in our great nation,” said Jones.
The W. Haywood Burns Institute Did Good Today
Learn more at http://www.burnsinstitute.org/