Cradle-to-prison pipeline focus of meeting

Resource type: News

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette |

by NOEL E. OMAN

Dismantling the cradle-to prison pipeline that will leave one in three black males born since 2001 at a lifetime risk of going to prison is the ambitious goal of a meeting to be held next month in Little Rock.

The Arkansas Cradle to Prison Pipeline Summit, to be held April 30 to May 2, will bring together state and local political leaders, church leaders, representatives from child-welfare agencies and others. They will examine the underlying causes of the phenomena that also affects a significant percentage of Hispanic males share promising strategies and create ways to stop what the meeting’s leaders say is a “national crisis at the intersection of poverty and race.” A news conference to promote the meeting was held Thursday morning in front of the Pulaski County Juvenile Justice Center.

“How appropriate is our backdrop,” said Pat Lile, an honorary co-chairman of the meeting. “We would like to put those folks out of business.” She called the planned meeting an “investment and commitment to the future of our state.” On average, 120 youthful offenders are charged with crimes as adults in Pulaski County every year, according to Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay. Also underscoring the scope of the problem, more than 1,000 go through the county’s juvenile justice system annually, he said. “Many, without intervention or treatment, will graduate to an adult prison,” Holladay said. “That’s too many.” The three-day meeting at the Doubletree Hotel will feature two dozen workshops and panel discussions, release of an Arkansas study on at-risk youths, and recommendations on prevention and intervention strategies as well as a youth rally. Na’im Akbar, a retired Florida State University clinical psychologist, speaker and author on an African-centered approach to psychology, will be the featured speaker at the opening session.

Other speakers and workshop presenters are to include Shelly Stewart, president of the Mattie C. Stewart Foundation; Angela Sabrano, executive director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities; Wendell Griffen, former Arkansas Court of Appeals judge; Wiley A. Branton Jr., a Pulaski County circuit court juvenile judge; and Oleta Fitzgerald, director of the southern regional office of the Children’s Defense Fund.

The planned meeting is modeled after a national campaign that the Children’s Defense Fund undertook two years ago, and similar meetings have been held in other states. Among the attendees at the national conference at Howard University was Beverly Divers-White, a longtime educator who is chairman of the Arkansas meeting.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said.

Among the people attending the news conference were about 10 young people from The Step Up Support Center, one of a dozen agencies funded by Little Rock and designed to help atrisk youths.

Jeremy Barnett and Devontae Lanes credit the southwest Little Rock agency with helping them stay out of trouble. Both also are on the football team at McClellan High School.

Barnett, 18, said that although he grew up in a single-parent household, he and his two brothers and sister participated in sports and other activities, such as Step Up, as an alternative to taking to the streets. “We are all doing stuff to stay out of trouble,” said Barnett, who plans to attend Arkansas Baptist College after he graduates this spring. “I don’t want to be a statistic.” The cost to register for the meeting is $150 if done by April 29. On-site registration will be $175. More information is available by contacting Divers-White on the Web at www.arkansascradle.org.

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Children & Youth

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United States

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Children's Defense Fund