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.
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.