Asks for their help to address root cause of youth crime
Grand Rapids — In a recent meeting with Kent County area pastors, Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma urged active involvement from the clergy to address youth crime and incarceration. He outlined the scope of the problem with troubled youth who end up in custody.
“Far too many teenagers that we see in our facility lack adequate education and have no marketable skills to be successful in the workforce,” said Sheriff Stelma. “Furthermore, many have mental health issues and are drug or alcohol dependent.”
Sheriff Stelma said the Kent County Correctional Facility will process 25,000 inmates a year. “Of that 25,000 inmates, over 2,100 are teenagers—14 to 19 years old. And these numbers do not include those in juvenile homes. Of the 2,100 teenagers incarcerated in the Kent County Correctional Facility during the course of a year, 1,500 of them indicate they have some gang affiliation,” Sheriff Stelma added.
Sheriff Stelma said 78 percent of these teenagers will go back in the system within three years. At $80 a day, with the average length of stay being ten days, this equates to $1.7 million dollars a year to jail teenagers in the Kent County Jail.
Sheriff Stelma also addressed solutions to the youth crime problem that that can begin early in a child’s life—before a crime has even been committed. These solutions include high-quality early education and programs that support at-risk youth and families and are shown to address the root behavioral causes of criminal activity.
He pointed to the evidence developed by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit anti-crime organization, of which he is a member. It includes more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, attorneys general and other law enforcement leaders and violence survivors.
“Fight Crime: Invest in Kids supports programs that are proven to cut crime and save taxpayer dollars by making wise investments in programs that reach kids early,” he said. “I am proud to be a member of this organization since it started 20 years ago. We have worked with our lawmakers both in Lansing and Washington to make sure they understand the benefits of investing public dollars in proven programs to help kids succeed in school and beyond,” Sheriff Stelma emphasized.
Programs that Fight Crime: Invest in Kids supports include high-quality preschool, voluntary home visiting, effective programs delivered in the after school time period, and child and family coaching for troubled children. All these programs help kids get on track and stay on track for success and opportunity—and avoid a life in and out of the criminal justice system.
In Michigan, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is led by more than 500 of Michigan’s best-known police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and crime survivors. It operates under the Council for a Strong America, the umbrella nonprofit for five membership organizations comprising the unique and powerful voices of law enforcement, business, military, faith and sports, working together to prepare young Americans for success.
The Council for a Strong America’s faith organization, Shepherding the Next Generation, is led by former Kent County State Representative Tom Pearce, who serves as the national director. Pearce also spoke to the pastors and encouraged them to join Shepherding the Next Generation and to be advocates for youth as part of their ministry.
“By getting at the front-end through prevention programs, as pastors we can reduce the negative consequences at the tail-end that usually result in shattered lives and high costs associated with incarceration,” he said.