Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 14 2011

When politicians talk budgets, keep this in mind

I had a chat with the boys in my homeroom about getting in trouble with the law. These are pretty good boys and they were full of mild stories, ranging from, “I kicked a soccer ball through my neighbor’s window” to, “I was out after local curfew” to, “We were all just hanging around outside and the cops pulled up. I ran, because I’m Mexican and the cops here don’t listen to Mexicans.”

Let me repeat that these are good boys (notice how innocent those stories are) but they were full of stories about run-ins with the police. All the stories take place when they were messing around with friends outside, getting into trouble because they have nothing better to do.

That really got me. Good kids are getting into trouble because they’re bored and unsupervised. (I know, you’ve probably heard that before, but it was striking to hear it directly from their mouths.) The policy major in me started asking them questions about what the community could offer them to help. The biggest answer was sports: school teams are capped at small numbers and the seasons are short, local soccer leagues aren’t year round, pickup games are dangerous. They also talked about the local Rec Center, which used to be fun but now they “would be the only big kids there”. (Please notice the endearing use of the phrase “big kids” by a kid who just finished describing the night he spent in jail.)

To me, this seems like a serious problem with a simple solution. If we don’t want my good kids to spend time in jail, we could instead provide them with sports leagues and other programs that could keep them off the streets. It’s too bad these things cost money, and there’s no extra money lying around for afterschool programs. (Although let’s compare the cost of this to the cost of incarcerating my babies….)

One Response

  1. amandainthemitten

    Great post! I actually work with adults with felony convictions this year (I’m an incoming CM). The link between lack of things to do & opportunities (educational, etc) and incarceration or getting in trouble is not at all surprising (I hear it all the time). The political debate can definitely be frustrating… after all if individuals aren’t put in prison where would all the jobs for the Dept of Corrections go!?! At that point in the argument it doesn’t matter if it is actually cheaper (and more ethical perhaps) to try to keep people out of prison. =\

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