Thursday, September 23, 2010

Special Guest Blogger: Commissioner Bahar-Cook on Judicial and Juvenile Justice Issues

This week, I have as a special guest blogger Commissioner Rebecca Bahar-Cook. I have known her for many years and treasure her as a colleague and as a friend. She is one of the brightest people I know, especially in the areas of the judiciary and juvenile justice needs in Ingham County, and her constituents in downtown and NW Lansing are lucky to have her service. So without further ado, I give you Ingham County Commissioner Rebecca Baher-Cook!


Hello all! My name is Rebecca Bahar-Cook and I have the pleasure of being the second guest blogger for Commissioner Schor. I too, serve on the County Commission and have the privilege of representing the 4th District, which covers NW Lansing including our downtown.

Commissioner McGrain filled you in what is going on in the County’s Human Services Department. I’d like to let you know a little bit more about our Judiciary and some amazing programs Ingham County has developed to better handle our at-risk and adjudicated juvenile population.

When I was 15-years-old my father was shot and killed by two youth under the age of 18 – the only things they took were his watch and his wallet. As you can imagine, that was a terrible tragedy for my family.

But, my family wasn’t the only one affected by this crime – so were the families of the two young boys who committed the crime. Neither of them were first offenders and I imagine neither of them thought they had very many options open to them.

I strongly believe that the citizens of Ingham County would want to prevent such a crime from taking place here. And that is exactly the purpose of the Juvenile Justice Millage (JJM) the voters of Ingham County have twice passed. All too often children who show at-risk behavior, such as truancy, end up getting into more and more trouble as they get older. Programs funded by the JJM do more than just lock-up our youth and forget about them. We offer these kids the opportunity to change their lives by taking real responsibility for themselves and their behavior.

For example, the Ingham Academy offers adjudicated youth who have been suspended or expelled from school a chance to earn their high school diploma. If so determined by the court, students are picked up from their homes each morning, driven to the Academy, where they spend a full day in school and are then driven home. Many of these youth are also involved in the PRIDE Program that offers after-school tutoring and activities. Students at the Academy have started an urban farm with fruits and vegetable planted right outside their classrooms. Chickens have been added to our urban farm and bee keeping is next on the agenda. These children are court ordered to attend school. If they misbehave or are not ready for school in the morning they will appear before the Court immediately. The youth agree to these terms and are held responsible for their actions moving forward.

The Academy offers these students the opportunity to learn first-hand about capitalism and free market enterprises. They are also learning about nutrition and ways to prepare healthy foods. Last year they bottled salsa made out of items from the garden and I’m told selling honey is next! These kids are learning that they do have options. Those options might not always be easy, and there are repercussions if they don’t hold up their end of the bargain, but these children are productive and learning to be proud of their abilities. The Academy is also partnering with Lansing Community College to offer our graduates additional opportunities to improve their lives by improving their education.

Members of the Ingham County Bench, Court Staff and Ingham County Commissioners have all come together to examine the way we treat our youth. In addition to the Ingham Academy I encourage all readers to find out more about Project Impact (also partially funded with JJM funds). Project Impact is a partnership with Mental Health and the Courts to look at the root causes of difficult behavior, many of which include mental health issues. Teen Court, Child and Family Services and the Dispute Resolution Center of Central Michigan all received grants to service youth in our county from the millage to evaluate and offer solutions to problem behaviors that keep our children out of the court system.

There is still much work to be done, but I am so proud of what Ingham County is doing for our youth. I often wonder if my father would still be alive if his murderers, those children, had been given other options. If they had been involved in Project Impact or the Ingham Academy three families might not have suffered the pain of what happened to me in 1985.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you would like to learn more.

And, just because Andy is such a Michigan fan and Ingham County is the home of MSU . . . GO STATE!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a great program and one that I wish every county in Michigan would emulate. As you so well noted, troubled kids don't just disappear if you ignore them, they continue to spiral into more complicated circumstances well into adulthood. As the saying goes, you learn a lot about a community by how they care for their most vulnerable. Ingham County should be applauded for addressing the needs of adjudicated youth head on. I look forward to hearing more about this program, its related components and success stories in the future!