Car­ing men­tors, tu­tors res­cue young lives at risk

A re­cent study ... pro­jected that dropouts from the class of 2012 will cost Texas tax­pay­ers $6 bil­lion to $10 bil­lion over their life­times.

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - Lynch retires on Mon­day.

The

fol­low­ing col­lo­quy oc­curred dur­ing my sen­tenc­ing of a 19-year-old de­fen­dant in a re­cent hear­ing in felony court in Travis County: Judge: Are you in school? De­fen­dant: No. I got sent to Gary Job Corp. in 10th grade and never fin­ished high school.

Judge: Be­cause you got in trou­ble? De­fen­dant: Yes. Judge: Do­ing what? De­fen­dant: It was ju­ve­nile. Judge: At the time, were you liv­ing with you mom?

De­fen­dant: Yes sir. She do what can to make it, try­ing to raise us kids.

Judge: What about your dad? Has he ever been in your life?

De­fen­dant: No. He don’t need to be.

Judge: Where’s your mom now?

De­fen­dant: She moved out of pub­lic hous­ing to Katy with­out me. I don’t know why.

Judge: You don’t have a per­ma­nent place to live?

De­fen­dant: No sir. Just liv­ing with who­ever will take me in.

Judge: Any­body ever been there to help you?

De­fen­dant: No. I been pretty much on my own for years.

Sim­i­lar con­ver­sa­tions oc­cur al­most daily in all crim­i­nal courts in Travis County. In the 20 years I have served as a district judge, I have sen­tenced nearly 30,000 de­fen­dants to pun­ish­ments rang­ing from a $100 fine to the death penalty. There’s no joy in the process, even when the pun­ish­ment is de­served, but there is ex­tra frus­tra­tion when you see young lives ru­ined through ne­glect and lack of op­por­tu­nity. I’m not sug­gest­ing that pun­ish­ment be averted when guilt is es­tab­lished. I’m sug­gest­ing that our com­mu­nity can and should do more to re­duce the chances of sim­i­lar at-risk young adults ever get­ting to felony court in the first place.

Liv­ing in our great city with the re­sources po­ten­tially avail­able, it is frus­trat­ing to see kids be­ing lost to crime, prison or death. Many of th­ese kids are starv­ing for adult guid­ance, di­rec­tion and love.

You might be mo­ti­vated to lend th­ese young peo­ple a help­ing hand be­cause you view it as a mo­ral im­per­a­tive, or you might be even more in­flu­enced by the prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tion. A re­cent study by the Bush School of Government and Pub­lic Ser­vices at Texas A&M pro­jected that dropouts from the class of 2012 will cost Texas tax­pay­ers $6 bil­lion to $10 bil­lion over their life­times. At-risk chil­dren of­ten end up in prison or drug re­hab or both, and the tax­payer is stuck with paying the bill. It now costs ap­prox­i­mately $22,000 an­nu­ally to in­car­cer­ate a pris­oner, but only $9,600 to send him to school. The cost of a month of drug re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion is in the thou­sands of dol­lars.

It is my opin­ion, based on 35 years in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem, that the sin­gle most im­por­tant fac­tor in keep­ing a child in school and out of se­ri­ous trou­ble is a pos­i­tive adult role model. It can pro­vide the foun­da­tion that al­lows all kinds of other hur­dles and in­equities to be over­come. Just look at what ac­tiv­ity has, for most of us, con­sumed a a ma­jor share of our en­ergy, time and thought dur­ing our adult lives — par­ent­ing our chil­dren so they can have the best chance to be suc­cess­ful.

So I’m ask­ing, for our chil­dren’s sake and for you own, get in­volved with men­tor­ing, tu­tor­ing, or vol­un­teer­ing in some mean­ing­ful way. I know we are all really busy with our per­sonal and busi­ness lives, and spare time for char­ity work is hard to come by. For years I used my 800 felony case load and a hec­tic and ir­reg­u­lar sched­ule as ex­cuses for not get­ting in­volved with men­tor­ing at lo­cal schools. Fi­nally, I quit ra­tio­nal­iz­ing and got started work­ing. I’ve also de­cided to com­mit to work­ing with a won­der­ful or­ga­ni­za­tion that is do­ing amaz­ing work in 54 of our lo­cal schools. I first learned about Com­mu­ni­ties in Schools from lo­cal and na­tional news sto­ries and from the Bush School study, which named it as one of the most ef­fec­tive preven­tion pro­grams in our state. They help at-risk kids and young adults in our schools in myr­iad ways. By vol­un­teer­ing at Com­mu­ni­ties in Schools, I will be help­ing young peo­ple not only to stay in school, but achieve in life. There are many other worth­while groups in need of help. Get in touch with one of th­ese groups di­rectly or through your school district, on­line, or by con­tact­ing me, and get started this school year. We owe it to th­ese young peo­ple and to the fu­ture of our com­mu­nity.

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