The Justice Imperative: Juvenile Justice Initiatives and In-School Programs
Barack, known to his friends as “Barry”, was a third-year honor student at a private college preparatory school in New Haven. One week from celebrating his 17th birthday, he was convicted of cocaine possession and distribution. Upon such conviction, his life changed forever.
His father, a native Kenyan, met his mother in New Haven while attending college as a foreign student on scholarship. They were married the following year. Within a year of Barry’s birth, his parents separated. His father returned to Kenya and had little contact thereafter with Barry. His mom eventually moved to Indonesia to pursue her interest in archeology. Barry chose to return to the U.S. to attend high school. He moved in with his grandparents.
Barry excelled in school. He had several Ivy League schools interested in him. All indications were he would qualify for an academic scholarship that would fully cover his tuition, room and board. He aspired to become a lawyer. He also liked to indulge in the recreational use of drugs with his friends. He was a member of the “choom gang”, with whom he regularly used alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.
As part of its war on drugs, Connecticut in 1987 passed legislation imposing mandatory punishment on the possession of a ½ gram of crack cocaine.
One night in the winter of 1988, Barry’s junior year, the choom gang pooled their monies to buy a gram of crack. Later that night, three members, including Barry, jumped in a car to make deliveries to the rest of the gang. The car had a busted tail light and an expired registration. The police stopped the car. After noticing a crack pipe on the backseat, they conducted a search, resulting in the discovery of the crack and several ounces of marijuana. All three teens were arrested and tried as adults. They were convicted and sentenced to prison.
Upon serving his sentence, Barry lost any chance he had of a college scholarship. He searched in vain for meaningful employment. Eventually, he resorted to using hard drugs, including heroin. He has been in and out of prison all of his adult life.
The above story, while fictional, underscores a cold, harsh reality. The war on drugs has led to the imprisonment of multitudes of teenagers across two generations for crimes that qualify as youthful indiscretions. Even our current President could have fallen into this snare. The consequences of incarceration are dire, not only for juveniles, but also their families and the communities in which they live.
A criminal record often slams shut the door leading to one’s pursuit of the American dream and the opportunity for upward mobility.
Can we, as a nation, afford to subject yet another generation of youth to the overreach of our current criminal justice system?
See More: Please go to Chapter Eleven in “The Justice Imperative”