Newark mayor: Court system must do a better job of monitoring teens after their arrest | Opinion

Published: Dec. 02, 2021

By Mayor Ras J. Baraka

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka says instead of ordering troubled kids home after their arrest the county courts and juvenile monitoring system need to recognize that resources exist in the city to help these students and begin to order these young people into these programs.
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The discussion over juvenile crime and justice needs to be started with hopefulness because to do otherwise does a disservice to the young people of this city and the city itself.

In 2020, our high schools were first in a national study of 50 cities that measured the number of students who exceeded expectations based on socioeconomic and racial statistics.

This year, four Newark High Schools won the national Great Schools College Gold Award, for continuously preparing students for successful university careers.

I mention this because the number of teenagers in our juvenile justice system is a mere fraction of the city’s high school students. Thousands of Newark teenagers graduate and go to productive lives never having been in any trouble.

However, the lives of those who are lured by the streets are equally important. There are no bad kids. There are bad circumstances they are born into, cycles of poverty and trauma that we must not let dictate the outcome of their lives.

In that spirit, I am calling on the Essex County Court system to better monitor the activities and whereabouts of teenagers remanded to their parents or guardians after being arrested, and order them into programs the city has developed to set them on a better path.

Since the courts are weighed down by backlogs due to COVID closures, we are seeing a tragic uptick in cases involving minors with long arrest records who are being passively monitored by the county - which has one, single employee keeping an eye on the movements of these troubled teens during business hours, and none at night or on the weekends.

Our Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery offers these at-risk juveniles pathways to the same success the overwhelming majority of our teenage students enjoy through education and character-building experiences of public service, academic contests, sports, the arts, and performances at our public schools.

We’ve held several sessions of the “Newark Street Academy” for juveniles who have been exposed to the justice system to prevent recidivism. In this program, we give these kids lessons in entrepreneurial skills and even seed money to start small, manageable businesses, or to buy and sell merchandise on the internet. Attendance is required, accountability is demanded, and lives get turned around.

On Nov. 20th, for instance, our academy members held a pop-up shop, featuring their fashion, skincare, and other designer creations, and served food from their new catering businesses.

The city made national headlines last year amid the “de-fund the police” outcry for our common-sense approach to funding community-based peacekeeping efforts by diverting five percent of the police budget to create our Office of Violence Prevention and Trauma Recovery.

The office is the umbrella organization for a variety of programs designed to combat violence, mentor our young people, and the keys to success. In many of these programs, we treat their involvement as employment, paying them $15 an hour to show up on time, every day, to develop a disciplined work ethic.

Three weeks ago, we announced an investment of $19 million for violence reduction initiatives over the next three years, partially funded by the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan.

We’re calling on more community organizations to apply for these funds to develop or continue programs to rescue our young people who have witnessed violence, drug addiction and other dysfunction since childhood from repeating those behaviors.

Equally important, we have a multitude of city employees and other concerned individuals from faith-based and secular civic organizations willing to mentor these kids.

Because we know them, and their families, because they are our neighbors, the city is uniquely qualified to work with these teenagers to improve their lives, for their own good, and for the public safety of the city.

What we need now is for the county family court, which handles all juvenile cases, to order these at-risk youthful offenders into proven city programs rather than simply remand them to their homes, and then lose track of them.

The current system, simply put, creates tragedies waiting to happen.

In the past three years, there have been 27 juvenile homicides. Twenty-one involved gunshot wounds, and two more were assaults. In that time, 14 juveniles were charged with murder.

One of those young men had been previously arrested multiple times for serious crimes, such as assaults, carjacking, and weapons charges. Each time he was remanded to home confinement until he was eventually charged with murder.

Last weekend, a 17-year-old was shot and killed and three other juveniles were wounded. The boy who was killed had been arrested 10 times for aggravated assault and weapons charges.

According to police, there are only 38 juveniles who commit repeated egregious crimes with no punitive consequence or ordered pathway to rehabilitation. This year, they are among 130 repeat offenders. These are manageable numbers.

We have the resources and the will to reach these young people. But we need the county courts and juvenile monitoring system to recognize those resources exist and begin to order these young people into our programs. To not do so puts the public, and the kids themselves, at unnecessary risk.

Ras Baraka is the mayor of the city of Newark.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-12-03 03:32:11 -0800