By Maria L. Scruggs
Last week Mayor Kriseman announced another initiative that has the potential to impact south St. Petersburg. For those of you who didn’t hear, the mayor and Police Chief Anthony Holloway are starting a diversion program for first time juvenile offenders.
This is a very innovative public safety initiative that will certainly have some impact on some youth. As I do with any strategy that has the potential of impacting the African-American community, I view the scale of the proposal and weigh it against the potential social or emotional problem the initiative is created to potentially impact.
Once I have drawn conclusions, I lean unto the word for understanding and guidance. After doing that I find the word of God calls on me to give thanks for all things. 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
So in keeping with the word of the God, I am genuinely thankful that Mayor Kriseman and Chief Holloway had the foresight for launching an initiative that could potentially impact a significant number of African-American youth in south St. Petersburg.
However, those of us who work in the criminal justice system know this program will fill a void and have value for some, but the implementation of such a program is like bringing a sling shot to a gun fight because of the scale and depth of the issues surrounding the incarceration rate of black men and black boys.
In keeping with the word for guidance and understanding, the scriptures also direct us to study for ourselves as evidenced in 2 Timothy 2:15. “Study to show thyself approved unto God!”
When being obedient to the word and attempting to discern whether this program would have a significant impact on black youth, I can only conclude this diversion program will not begin to touch the surface of the broader picture of the disproportionate number of black boys that enter the juvenile justice system in Pinellas County, particularly when you consider the following:
In 2005 54.5 percent of the children direct filed to the adult system in Pinellas County, not just St. Petersburg were black children
In 2006 55.3 percent of the children direct filed to the adult system in Pinellas County were black children
In 2007 54.5 percent of the children direct filed to the adult system in Pinellas County were black children
In 2008 52.1 percent of the children direct filed to the adult system in Pinellas County were black children
In 2009 53.5 percent of the children direct filed to the adult system in Pinellas County were black children