Idle hands ...
Creating work for young people is a good step toward reforming our criminal justice system
By Randy Jurado Ertll 09/01/2011
President Obama should not neglect the invisible young men and women who are in
Let’s not forget that Obama campaigned on a pledge of change. And a couple of profound changes he could help bring about are reforming our criminal justice system and creating real jobs for our disillusioned and frustrated young adults.
Today, we are warehousing 2.1 million people in jails or prisons — more than any other country in the world.
Many are behind bars because of the so-called war on drugs, which has been a huge failure and is bankrupting state budgets. “Drug offenders in prison and jails have increased 1,100 percent since 1980,” according to the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit prison reform group based in Washington, DC.
Our criminal justice system is discriminatory. “African-Americans comprise 14 percent of regular drug users, but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 56 percent of persons in state prison for drug offenses,” according to the Sentencing Project.
“More than 60 percent of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities,” the group notes. “For black males in their 20s, one in every eight is in prison or jail on any given day.”
Many of these youth were not given the proper opportunities to obtain a quality education and many come from abusive households that have high rates of alcohol and drug use. The great majority of these youth live in poverty, where violence and incarceration is common. Also, they do not have professional networking opportunities that upper-middle-class and upper-class young adults have. Many also do not have the proper household arrangements where they can concentrate and focus on studying.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not defending or justifying criminal acts or making excuses. Individuals who commit crimes need to be held responsible. The concept of personal responsibility must be taught and shared among our youth. We must teach our youth that negative actions will most likely result in negative results.
But we, as a society, need to get at the root of solving socio-economic disparities that lead to violence. Our justice system needs to be reexamined and adjusted to meet the current needs of our society.
Obama should prioritize gang prevention and intervention programs that include youth-education and job-creation elements. Such programs can counteract the hopelessness that afflicts so many of our young people of color. We must change the defeatist mentality that says, “I don’t give a damn — I’m going to end up in prison anyway or I’m going to die soon.”
Many of these youth have lost motivation, and we must restore equitable opportunities for the needs of our fellow citizens. Also, our youth must take responsibility in demanding a quality education from their public schools and advocate for equitable distribution of resources from their local city government representatives.
Our young adults must be taught key skills such as preparing a resume, understanding student loans, learning how to properly interview, and be willing to seek entry level jobs.
It is essential for President Obama and his administration to build programs that will truly help create real jobs at the grassroots level. The government-funded agencies that supposedly help provide training to obtain jobs are not enough — qualified individuals must be referred to places where they will have a shot of actually getting a job and not just promises. We know the cliché “we will keep your resume on file” and we know that it will most likely get ignored, deleted or thrown in the trash can.
Obama ran his campaign on change and hope. We know that he promised positive change for our youth and that he is under-delivering for the working class families of America. He still has to go a long way to accomplish his promises. Our youth deserve to be given the opportunity to grow and be productive members of our society. We cannot stop inspiring and motivating our youth, whether they live in the urban ghettos or suburbs.
To do so effectively, he needs to root out the bias in our criminal justice system and support effective gang and violence prevention programs. He needs to establish and implement a plan that truly creates jobs for our youth. Otherwise, the frustrations and hopelessness will continue to grow.
Let us not forget that it is the responsibility of both major political parties, Democrats and Republicans, to create real jobs. A generation of low-income young people deserves real opportunities and jobs.
Democrats and Republicans, please stop the blame game, and start creating jobs. America’s future depends on it.
Randy Jurado Ertll, executive director of El Centro de Accion Social, is the author of “Hope in Times of Darkness: A Salvadoran American Experience” (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group). Please visit randyjuradoertll.com. Write to Ertll at firstname.lastname@example.org.