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Eye On Olympia

Gregoire on juvenile justice…

On Friday, the MacArthur Foundation announced that it plans to pour $10 million into Washington to try to spur effective juvenile justice reforms. Among the group’s goals: less reliance on incarcerating kids and more on reforming them.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, backed by Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge, gave a short spiel to a group of juvenile justice officials from across the state.

Afterwards, Gregoire fielded a couple of questions from a reporter. Among them: How do you respond to fears that such approaches are soft on crime?

“I can tell you if we ever want to turn a life around…we need to get that child as young as we possibly can — the day they begin to get engaged in the juvenile justice system — and find out why, get them the help they need and turn them into productive members of society.

“It is a waste of human capital and it’s a waste of taxpayers money…and those in the juvenile justice system, Whether we like it or not, if we don’t intervene and we don’t help them, are headed for our adult criminal justice system.

“We owe it to these kids to find out what it is. They didn’t get there on their own. There is something wrong. Is it mental health? Is it drug and alchol? Is it a broken family? Is it domestic violence? What is it that’s happening in that child’s life that made that child turn to a life of crime? And whatever it is, let’s get to it. Let’s help that kid turn his or her life around.

“I’ll tell you one thing I have learned throughout my career: every child who’s been headed down that path, whose life has been turned around will invariably say to you it’s because someone reached out and said `I care. I believe in you. You can turn this around. You can have a great life.’ That’s touched that child, that child’s life has been turned around, they’ve gone on and been productive members of society, raised their own families and had a great life.

“That’s what we need to do. Not give up. Not just assume lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key is gonna turn a life around. It won’t. They’re going to get out with the exact same problems they had going in, and all they’re going to do is graduate to the adult criminal justice system. So let’s get it early, let’s get it right. Let’s save these kids lives.”


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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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