You probably read the recent story right here in the pages of The Sedalia Democrat by reporter Nicole Cooke about the success of the Juvenile Drug Court program here in Pettis County.
You’ve probably heard someone expressing the sentiment that America is No. 1 – and they’re right. There are a whole lot of categories in which the United States leads the world rankings, including incarceration rate.
We’re quick to decide that someone is undeserving of mercy. In one moment we’ll be casually speeding, jaywalking or pirating movies online and in the next moment, we’ll be hoping those drug users next door get put away for life. It’s strange that we casually wish for a brutal prison system because on any given day our circumstances could break down and we could find ourselves experiencing it firsthand.
So that’s why it is refreshing to see we’re shuffling less juveniles into the regular system. Someone who starts spending real time in jail at a young age might start feeling like they deserve to be there; they might start feeling like they’re just not cut out for life on the outside.
Jail is full of criminals, and there’s nobody better to teach you how to be a better criminal than those who can tell you which mistakes to avoid. They call it con college for a reason: the truly criminal-minded can choose to use their time inside to hone their criminal skills.
As far as nonviolent drug offenders go, the resources of the system should go toward putting them back into society rather than making them do serious time no matter what their age might be. It’s never too late to change, and not only the young are deserving of mercy.
We need to help them have a better life so they don’t feel they have to turn to using or selling drugs just to live. If they don’t have a high school degree we should help them get a GED. If they don’t have any job prospects we should help them with job placement programs. If they live in a household full of people who encourage their behavior, we should help them get out.
Where are we going to get that kind of money? Maybe we could divert some of the funds that we would normally use to detain and feed these people. It’s surprisingly expensive to keep someone in jail.
I might just be a little naive, but I don’t think there are that many people who are actively criminally inclined. That is to say that I don’t think even the majority of criminals are people who actually like breaking the law. They’re people who are victims of the disease of addiction. They’re people who have fooled themselves into thinking the only way they can provide for their family is by breaking into cars and selling hard drugs.
And alternatively here on the outside we need to stop thinking that someone should be unemployable just because they were a criminal at one point. It can be a tough job market out there in general, but it’s even tougher when you’re a convict and that’s one of the top reasons why the criminal justice system can feel like a revolving door.
It’s a vicious cycle – they won’t hire you because you have a record so you are forced to commit more crimes just to support yourself or your family and when you get out your record is even worse so there are even less employers who are willing to take a chance on you.
So here’s to all those who chose to use the Juvenile Drug Court as an avenue for a new start. I hope they go on to do amazing things. And here’s to those who sit in jail and wish for nothing more than to successfully reintegrate back into regular society – I hope that you get that opportunity.
Travis McMullen is a longtime Sedalia resident who shares his views on the city through his weekly Democrat column.