Inner Center Development Center
Youth Jails don't work.
I Knew Youth Jail ~ We Don't Need A New Youth Jail
It Doesn't Work
By Anthony Powers
I remember my first time in juvenile hall. It was in March of 1992 and though I didn't show it on the outside, I was terrified going in there. As with most things that we fear in the unknown, those fears were quickly dispelled once I experienced the reality of how things were inside of there.
I was put in the cell with my cousin's boyfriend. When I went to breakfast that morning I saw friends from school, and others from early childhood that I hadn't seen in years. I was welcomed with smiles as they inquired why I was there. When I told them I had stolen a car everyone laughed. The threat of going to juvenile was no longer a deterrent.
After breakfast we were put back in our cells. There wasn't much to do in there so we would spend our time telling stories about experiences in our brief lives and playing cards. Shortly past 8 o'clock a.m. each morning they would call us out to school.
There was no deterrence factor or educational tools made available for us to turn our lives around for the better. Nothing to make us evaluate the choices we had made in lives, which had landed us there in the first place. That first stint in juvi-jail was less than a month, which had been the longest period of time I had stayed away from my mother's home till that point in my young life.
Similar to my experience, children who would be housed in the new jail for kids in Seattle wouldn't be given meaningful direction to help turn their lives around. Part of the discoveries in neurological development with youths is that the gaps in regions of the brain's development contribute to teens seeking guidance from outside of the home. The question then becomes, are we willing to give it to them?
$1/4 billion investment isn't made towards something that people don't want to use in the future. An investment this large is an investment in the failure of inner city youths in the Seattle area for years to come. A sad statement concerning our own values system as a society.
Or maybe, just maybe, people really do want a solution and just don't know how to go about finding one that is beneficial to all human beings. We are so conditioned in America, with 25% of the world's prison population here at home, that we are led to believe incarceration is the answer to crime.
We regurgitate the things we hear about people having to pay for what they did, never stopping long enough to ask ourselves how our own sense of vengeance and retribution contribute to others using violence to retaliate for being wronged.
Finding a different solution, a more effective solution, will call for us to not only think but to operate outside of the box. The $1/4 billion that politicians are willing to use on the infrastructure of a new jail for children can be spent to help cure the issues they are scared of. Locks are built out of fear, a fear of being hurt, a fear of having our things stolen etc.
The solution has no need for locks, but provides many keys instead. I'd propose that instead of building a new youth jail, we use that same money to build a new Inner City Development Center, I.C.D.C. for short. The same youths who would've been sent to the juvi-jail would instead be sentenced to a weekly deterrence program at the I.C.D.C. while remaining at home.
In order to understand the solution we have to comprehend the problem. Teens who commit crimes are often trying to impress their friends or follow the examples learned in the neighborhood they were raised in. Learning new possibilities can create a new future.
The I.C.D.C. would operate with a collective of community leaders coming together to teach kids a new way of living. Instead of juvenile staff making upwards of $100k plus a year per staff, the I.C.D.C. would hire a collective of educators, counselors, financial experts, and mentors to help teens get on the right track.
Educators consist of school teaches to help them with their current education and educators/college students from the nearby UW (University of Washington) who will introduce them to the importance of receiving a higher education and the various means of financial aid that youth from troubled backgrounds may not know is available to them.
Counselor's would be made available to assist them with behavioral, emotional, or substance abuse issues needing to be addressed. The financial experts would teach them how to understand fundamentals in financial literacy contributing to a healthy lifestyle. While the mentors would consist men and women who've turned their lives around and can give the youths a first hand perspective of the benefits of living a law abiding lifestyle.
Similar to how the most effective drug and addiction counselors are people who have overcome that lifestyle, former prisoners can reach the children who are headed down that same path. It takes a community to raise a child, and when we do so correctly there won't be a need for more jails and prisons.
One approach would be to have students of these classes go on to become the future leaders of them. This would allow them to develop pro social leadership skills while being a first hand example for their peers of what is possible for themselves in a short amount of time.
In order to keep people engaged, both short term and long term goal setting skills would be taught. Accomplishing short term goals inspires people to continue moving forward towards their long term goals.
The I.C.D.C. (Inner City Development Center) wouldn't have beds, cells, or a detention area. This is a place to end the cycle of crime and violence. If members of society ask why they should pay for people who break the law to receive training without being accountable for their actions we can simply respond that this is an investment in all of our futures.
It is an investment in the future of law abiding citizens by preventing future costs that would've been spent on the same people going to juvi-jail and later prison costs. This amounts to billions of dollars in taxes. Additionally, decriminalizing individuals makes us all safer. Fewer people willing to commit crime equates to fewer drug dealers and other types of criminal behaviors that can plague our community. If we'd pay for a security system on our homes, why not pay for a system that would deter the people who would've been the ones breaking in?
We invest in at risk youths and their parents by equipping them with the tools that bring them into the broader fold of society. This is why it would be a good thing to have an additional aspect of the I.C.D.C. to have job training, financial literacy, and parenting classes available for the caretakers of these youths. It all begins in the home and this should be a team effort.
Seattle's tech companies can both contribute to the solution and benefit from the outcomes. There is currently a shortage in computer coders, and tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google could set up training classes for children and their families where there would be a pathway to employment. Educate them on the pathway and what their salaries would be. This works as an incentive for them to stick with the process.
A staffing agency, such as Express Employment Services, could be provided free office space within the building on a condition that they prioritize children (16+) and their families involved in the programs located within the building for employment. Transportation costs can be subsidized as people get on their feet and rise out of impoverished circumstances that often contribute to crime.
The I.C.D.C. (Inner City Development Center) could save on costs by having their own transportation vans and drivers. A spirit of caring about the success of the participants at the center creates a higher success rate. Ensuring that people are able to be there on time ensures they have time for these behavioral changes to take root.
These are only a few of the possibilities of what could be done with the proposed investment of a $1/4 billion for a youth-jail, plus operating costs each year. This is a much more progressive approach that is beneficial for all of Seattle's citizens, and the citizens of our entire state due to the ripple effects.
If we want to continue to be the most progressive state in America, and if Seattle wants to continue to be the most progressive city in our state, then we need to invest in our people. Invest in things that'll bring an increase in our success rates, rather than investing in more prisons and prison training grounds (juvi-jails) that only contribute to our destruction.
All too often we don't think about the negative side effects of jails and prisons. In 2009, I had a cellmate in prison. He was a 19 year old kid from Centralia, Washington who went by the nickname Flacko. He told me about how the leader of his gang had started his gang years earlier after he got out of prison. Prior to that there had been no gangs in Centralia.
A few years later, in 2012, I met the guy Flacko had told me about. Though he was the leader of his gang in Centralia, in the prison hierarchy he was only a mid level leader. His story astounded me, because he laid out the back story of how he joined a gang himself.
His name is Russell Charnelle, and he told me about how when he came to prison he just wanted to do his time and get back out. He wasn't a gang member and didn't want to be one. Prison was a negative place back then (pre-Redemption Project) and he found himself continuously getting into fights because he was a loner.
Eventually he got sent to an even worse prison, Walla Walla. While he was there he felt fatigued with fighting and agreed to join the gang his cousins from Yakima belonged to, the Nortenos. Russell was familiarized with gang life and started his own branch of this gang in Centralia upon his release.
This new branch opened up drug routes from Yakima to Centralia. From Centralia these same routes found new markets in Hoquiam, Washington and from there to Aberdeen. How one person was influenced in prison resulted in three of our towns in Washington State being negatively impacted.
Is that what we want more of? More places that train people how to be better criminals, instead of training people how to become productive citizens? The I.C.D.C. creates solutions, while a new Juvi-Jail perpetuates the same problems it claims to address.
We need solutions that benefit the collective. A long-term remedy that is worth our tax payer dollars. Children are different, we shouldn't lock them up because they're from other countries and we shouldn't throw away our own here at home.
I've lost loved ones to violent crime, but I've come to realize that pain and retaliation will not bring beneficial results. We need solutions that will bring outcomes which will change the culture of crime in society and make it less likely that people are willing to break the law moving forward. We need the I.C.D.C.
© 2018 Anthony Powers