Parents, politicians, teachers and taxpayers must better prepare people for life after an institution. This holds true for both ACI inmates and Rhode Island high school students.
Public high schools no longer stress hands on training. Instead, they focus on English, math, science, history, though these subjects are hard pressed to hold a teenagers’ attention for four years. One alternative could be to include more vocational electives within our public schools. This elective – think: autobody repair, cooking, hairstyling, barbering, etc. – would help encourage students to stay in school, because with the completion of the recommended hours in that elective, a student could earn a license as well as a high school diploma.
A trade elective could be mandatory for all students, so long as it granted them choice in choosing what elective to pursue, thereby giving them the hours and experience to obtain their license, to be able to go straight to work upon completion of high school.
Such a program is even more needed for young men who are incarcerated.
Many 18 to 22-year-olds are being released back into society with stable minds but no valid work opportunities to release their positive and renewed energy. So instead they return to their old neighborhoods or life of crime, mostly because there’s not a system in place to reintegrate them back into society. Here in medium security at the ACI, there are 16-20 people released every month. That is a total of about 200 people a year just from this facility alone.
There needs to be more job placement workshops and skills building opportunities for inmates being released. This would especially help the lower class communities because it would also revitalize those depressed economies and rebuild the local infrastructure. It would help rebuild the communities themselves.
There should be more communication between the probation officers and community leaders to develop new programs and ways to keep these kids from returning back to the life of crime that put them behind bars in the first place.
Believe me, kids today, whether in traditional public school or prison, aren’t bad kids. I help teach, encourage, and talk with them daily, and as I listen to what went wrong in their lives and what could have helped them. Most say they didn’t have that father figure, teacher, or leader to guide them, so they committed a crime to get attention. That’s it!
We need to band together to help our youth, regardless of their ethnicity, neighborhood, or criminal history. When it’s all said and done, that could be our son or daughter, nephew or niece, and they’ll end up growing up in a world that we had the chance to change, but neglected to do so.
I pray this op/ed is received with clarity, and that the reader will act upon these issues concerning our youth. Regardless of their past, all children deserve the same opportunity for a better tomorrow. Let us parents, taxpayers, and public officials stay vigilant to solutions for a better tomorrow.
This post is published as part of the Prison Op/Ed Project, an occasional series authored by CCRI sociology students who are incarcerated at the Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institute.