Opinion: Our Juvenile Justice System Should Help, Not Just Punish

Delaware Online

By LaKresha Roberts

I met Jeff at a re-entry peer support group a few months ago. In his 20s, with an easy-going and soft-spoken persona, he has his first job at a local retailer and, in spite of his past, a spirit of gratitude.

See, Jeff got a second chance at life.

At age 9, he was first arrested. By 15, he was charged with firearm possession. The firearm charge landed him in prison.

Where was the rest of his family while he cycled through Delaware’s criminal justice system?

His mother was murdered in Wilmington when he was just a child, and his father spent years struggling with drug addiction. His grandparents, who raised him, also struggled with addiction. In addition, his grandfather had spent time in federal prison.

Predictably, Jeff made some poor decisions. He said he went from “water and BB guns to real guns, a product of my neighborhood because that’s all I saw.”

After his release from prison, Jeff’s life took a positive turn. A mandatory program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals transition back into the community was his saving grace. Through the organization’s re-entry program, Jeff accessed a support system that obliterated barriers in his environment, transforming him from a felon into a law-abiding, tax-paying Delawarean.

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