This guest post originally appeared as a Reader Letter in the Courier Journal. You can find it online here.
Kentucky is jailing 50 percent fewer juveniles for non-criminal acts. This is progress but as the July 28 Courier-Journal article suggested, more needs to be done.
Addressing the dynamics that drive children from school rather to it is why alternatives to detention work and detention does not. When trauma resulting in emotional pain in a child’s life, peer pressures, learning issues, addictions, failed support systems, learned helplessness, and the lack of available character building techniques are confronted and relief provided, the child improves.
If not relieved, but incarcerated, these and a plethora of other emotional issues all go as one, big, complicated, dysfunctional package as a suffering youngster to the detention block where a cacophony of internal, destructive voices become even more fused together into one hardened and harder to reach child. Whether alternative programs or detention centers, we the public will pay; but most importantly, the child pays, maybe with his life.
Whether one takes a spiritual or philosophical perspective, the essence of the issue is will we provide healing for our kids getting them engaged with school, or punish them into temporary submission? Is the solution grace and help or crime and punishment? Which one works?
Detention is no longer a deterrent to truancy as in my days as a student. Incarceration does not ease the pain or sort out the confusion in a child. It only builds their immunity to experience more of the same. Yes, more needs to be done.
DR. WILLIAM K. SMITHWICK
President and CEO
Sunrise Children’s Services
Mount Washington, Ky. 40047
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