AFJ's Chief Operating Officer's NY Times Letter to the Editor

Read Judith Evans Smith's Letter to the Editor about Baltimore.
Judith Smith

Letter to the Editor:

Avenues For Justice, formally Andrew Glover Youth Program, is named for a policeman who was gunned down while trying to protect the Lower East Side community. Our mission is to work with youth who are in trouble with the law, but who want to turn their lives around. They and we both work to avoid further criminal activity by providing an alternative to incarceration program.

A striking image during the Baltimore protests was the video of a single mother frantically trying to prevent her teen son from throwing a brick at a policeman, and then dragging him home. She explained afterwards that her desperation was due both to her belief that it was wrong for her son to strike a police officer – and because she keenly feared that her own teen could be gunned down in return.

My staff is very aware of the enmity that must be healed. To do so, the AFJ brings all sides to the table – teens, police, parole officers, judges, teachers, families. The only piece we leave out of the equation is the jail cell.

That’s because 80% of youth who go to jail commit more crimes after release, creating a treadmill of repeated incarceration and increased danger to society. At AFJ, instead of lock-up, the teens live at home. Instead of wasting time on the streets or in jail, they’re at our youth centers where AFJ’s staff are on call 24/7 not only for the teens, but also for the families, teachers, and police. As a result, less than 10% of our kids continue a cycle of crime.

For taxpayers, the cycle hasn’t stopped yet. Instead, they pay up to $353,000 to jail each youth, while a vastly more successful model like Glover costs just $5,200 per youth. That adds up to billions of dollars that could instead fix our schools, save businesses and jobs from being driven out by high rents, and save families from raising the next generation in homeless shelters. Yet, New York continues to jail thousands of youth each year, knowing that it can actually increase crime, pitting youth against law enforcement.

All levels of our society need to let someone talk some sense into us, to replace our destructive cycles with equitable options – a Baltimore mom to take the brick out of our hands.

- Judith Evans Smith, Chief Operating Officer