“Enhancing vocational education opportunities is one of the most critical things we can do to help set incarcerated students on a positive course in school and in life,” said Arturo Delgado, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). “In a time when educational programs are being slashed to the bone, it is truly uplifting to be able to provide this opportunity to our county’s most vulnerable and at-risk youth.” Last week I attended a ribbon cutting at the Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster, CA. It is one of the many probation camps located in Los Angeles County. One of LACEF’s initiatives is to advocate for policies that will improve self-sufficiency of young people, (boys and girls), who are a part of the juvenile justice system. In talking with several of the young men, what struck me the most is how young they not only looked, but are, and that the majority of the population is Latino and African-American. It was also overwhelming to visit their “dorms” which were similar to the pods at the LA County jail.
While the “BuildingSkills: Construction Careers for the 21st Century” program is great and prepares students for trades — such as carpentry, masonry and plumbing, I found myself becoming angry as I drove back to my life in downtown Los Angeles. Angry because we (society) have and are failing an entire generation. Angry, because there seems to more outrage about the use of plastic grocery bags than our young people who are in trouble and need our help. It is easy to blame it on the parents, and there is certainly fault there. And I’m not making excuses for the wrong these young people have done because some of the infractions are quite serious. However, there were steps along the way where an adult failed them—failed to guide and protect them. It seems as though we have become more to apathetic as it relates to poverty, crime, young people and rehabilitation.
We cannot continue to ignore this epidemic. Locking these young people up now without providing any opportunities for change once they are released e.g. school credits, job certification, transitional support, and psychological and health support, will only lead them to a life-time of incarceration. In the long-run, this will and is hurting our society. This connects to the blog I wrote in November 2011 entitled “Achieving the Dream” and its Connection to Education and Health” because everything is linked. As I stated then:
America was once the leader in education and job creation. Foreign nations now claim those titles. If access to education and health is not provided early on, our nation will pay the price with higher drop-out rates, teen pregnancies, youths incarcerated in the juvenile justice system, and disaffected youth in general. Our initiative focuses on giving young people the skills to become productive citizens so they may help our country regain [our] competitiveness [globally] and improve our society overall.
So I ask myself and others, “what are you willing to do to change the life trajectory of these young people”?
Dawn Turner, Chief Operating Officer