Florida Politics, December 29,2015
By A.G. Gancarski
One of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s priorities has been public safety. But it’s a new school approach to law and order, one predicated on the assumption that Jacksonville can’t police our way out of its problems, and one rooted in a revival of the Jacksonville Journey.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Curry has said.
Curry advocates a “data-driven” approach that will make Jacksonville a “safer city” and a “more prosperous city,” and evidence of that data can be found in such documents as the monthly reports for the Jacksonville Journey, such as the recently released November iteration.
The Alternatives to Truancy and Out of School Suspension report, for example, reports on the five ATOSS centers throughout Jacksonville, where students “are closely monitored and required to keep their school work current. In addition, the centers serve all students picked up throughout the day for truancy.”
“Short-term, this approach will dramatically reduce the numbers of students unsupervised throughout the school day, improve academic outcomes and reduce crime in surrounding neighborhoods. Long-term, it will reduce crime and lower the dropout rate of at-risk students. Current projections show that the centers can serve 27,000 students annually,” the report asserts.
In terms of outcomes, there are verifiable successes here, in terms of students getting academic and social service support, including behavioral support and counseling. Of 152 students referred to an ATOSS center in November, 122 actually complied.
Another Journey program, Neighborhood Accountability Boards, utilizes principles of Restorative Justice with regard to juvenile civil citations for youth from the ages of 10 to 17 in Jacksonville’s most crime-plagued ZIP codes.
NABs are a pathway to allowing young people on a pathway to crime to make amends (via community service) and find a pathway back into being responsible members of the community, rather than falling through the cracks.
And they seem to be working. Out of 29 youngsters in the program thus far, 23 completed it successfully.
Successful completion of the program allowed them to have their civil citation dismissed, thus clearing their criminal record.
As well, those young people avoided alternative schools, and any adverse interactions with law enforcement in the interim.
The report from Jacksonville Children’s Commission program, which prepares at-risk youth for a GED and vocational training, contained a narrative snapshot of a success story from real adversity about a 17-year-old Hispanic girl who attends Sandalwood High.
“At the time of referral, she was struggling with Algebra and following the wrong crowd, which often affected her ability to make good choices. In addition, [she] was on probation for taking her grandmother’s car without permission. Upon entering the program, she was assigned a case manager, educational specialist and therapist,” read the report.
And therapy, it turned out, got to the heart of the matter.
“She expressed that she didn’t feel safe being alone with her stepfather. After DCF was notified, she was given permission to live with a family member,” which allowed her “to work through her depression and the grief and loss of living outside the home.”
“Her overall grades and grade point average has improved. Her relationship with her mother and stepfather has improved as well. … She is currently on track to graduation June 2016 and plans to enlist into the military, in the Fall of 2016.”
Additionally, the Journey includes the Library Equal Access Program, designed to boost literacy levels for teens and young adults, with a particular focus on acclimating them to reading and fostering a domestic culture of literacy appreciation for their children.
LEAP includes “story time programs” for parents and children to attend together, as well as pre-GED and technology classes, for people in Health Zone 1: 32202, 32204, 32206, 32208, 32209 and 32254.
The goal, ultimately: to provide the tools for personal development, so that the criminal world doesn’t seem like the logical alternative.
The initiatives, coupled with other housing and community development programs, make up the backbone of the Jacksonville Journey. They aren’t glamorous. They don’t come with guarantees of success. They are concerted efforts that require and thus far receive a holistic buy-in from City Hall.
During the 2015 campaign, a talking point from some quarters was of a “lost generation.” The Jacksonville Journey revival may just find them.
One person at a time.