Back in March, the Children’s Defense Fund of Texas held a conference called The Cradle to Prison Pipeline. Hundreds of people showed up. They sat on steps and the floor and packed the aisles and edges of the room to get in.
Out of that conference, six task force groups were formed to make legislative recommendations.
Children’s Defense Fund Texas Executive Director Barbara Best says there needs to be a shift away from incarceration and toward prevention.
“It costs about $1,000 a year for a mentoring program for a child. It costs about $2,700 for an after-school program for a child. It costs about $7,000 for a year of public education. But it costs $56,000 to incarcerate a child for a year in the Texas Youth Commission.”
Best says some of their basic recommendations include expanding early childhood education, providing better mental health care and doing more outreach in the schools to connect with at-risk kids.
Chelsea Dane-Garcia was one of those kids.
“Growing up, I had a very abusive father to my mother and to me and my brothers, who also did a lot of drugs and forced me and my brothers to try them with him. All my life people told me that I wasn’t going to amount to anything either, and so I believed them. So all throughout middle school and high school I cut class a lot; I got into a lot of fights; I got suspended more than I can count.”
Garcia started using drugs and alcohol, later got pregnant and then tried to commit suicide.
She’s just now 17 years old, went through rehab, is raising her little boy and plans to go to college next year.
Gail Revis is on the Children’s Defense Fund Advisory Board. She says this is a difficult time to bring these issues to the legislature, but it must be done.
“We cannot put these children on the back burner. We cannot wait for the economic crisis to settle down. We’re going to have to be creative, we’re going to have to be inventive about the kinds of things we do with young people. We may not have the money, but we have to have the motivation.”
The Children’s Defense Fund hopes to bus hundreds of teachers, social workers and child advocates to Austin in the Spring to lobby about the Cradle to Prison Pipeline.
Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.