A Syracuse University Law School Graduate has helped create a program to keep young people out of the criminal justice system … so they don’t continue in a life of crime. Amber Givens-Davis is a District Court Judge in Dallas. She worked with 3 other judges after seeing a lot of young people, mostly first-time offenders in their courts. Criminal Court Judge Lisa Green wanted to prevent those appearances.
“This program (can) even prevent them from entering into the criminal justice system. You know we always hear about the pipeline to prison, but how do we keep the kids from coming before us.”
Green, Givens-Davis and two other judges, Stephanie Mitchell and Shequitta Kelly, developed “Pipeline to Possibilities” to bring some of the realities of the courts, crime and prisons to young people. They start with a mock crime, acted out, that often shocks the kids, but also shows them how quickly a decision can have consequences. Amber-Davis says they then explain more about the court system.
“We find that a lot of young people get involve in the juvenile system because they have co-defendants that are adults who play upon them, this concept that juveniles don’t get in trouble, ‘oh, they won’t charge you with robbery, so why don’t you go into the store and do X, Y and Z.’ So just explaining to the there is a system where they can be charged as an adult.”
CHANGING MINDS, CHANGING FUTURES
The program also tries to change the mindset of the youth. Seeing 4 judges, all black women, come into the schools and show an interest in the kids, has an impact.
“We’re using the platform that we have and it’s something out of the ordinary, to see four judges come into the schools, giving back to kids. We always tell them, ‘look, we want to have real conversations with you. You don’t have to sugar coat it for us; we’re not your parents. We’re not going to go back and tell on you.’”
Green adds the program can shift how young people see their future.
“No matter what their circumstances or their background, realize their full potential. And for them to understand, in the criminal justice system, it all starts in the mindset. So we’re basically educating them about how to focus on their goals and their dreams and to try to achieve them.”
Givens-Davis says looking into Syracuse, she found youth are involved in shootings, drug dealing and other crimes. She says the ideas behind Pipeline to Possibilities could be used here, bringing judges or elected officials into classrooms. She and Green say anything to bridge the gap between the community and the courthouse, might prevent young people from having to go there.