A second chance to get things right

With all the recent shootings we’ve been witness to of late and no signs of them abating, we need to consider all possible options for addressing the social issues contributing to this growing problem.  Yesterday’s Royal Gazette outlines a program from North Carolina called Ceasefire which has been used to get people to mend their ways and consider better approaches to life.  It’s a worthy program worth serious consideration because we need to consider every opportunity to bring peace to our community.

Quoting Newsweek the Royal Gazette outlines the program’s success: "[Criminologist David Kennedy] got the cops to try a new way of cleaning up the corners. They rounded up some young dealers; showed a videotape of them dealing drugs; and readied cases, set for indictment, that would have meant hard time in prison. Then they let the kids go. Working with their families, the police helped the dope dealers find job training and mentors. The message, which spread quickly through the neighborhood, was that the cops would give kids a second chance but come down aggressively if they didn’t take it. The police won back trust they had lost long ago (if they ever had it). After four years, police in High Point had wiped the drug dealers off the corner. They compared the numbers to the prior four years and found a 57 percent drop in violent crime in the targeted area.”

This program outlines an excellent opportunity to give people who have made the wrong decisions the opportunity and incentive to start making the right ones.  Here’s how David Kennedy himself describes the program on the U.S. Department of Justice website.

Here is how the High Point Intervention works: A particular drug market is identified; violent dealers are arrested; and nonviolent dealers are brought to a "call-in" where they face a roomful of law enforcement officers, social service providers, community figures, ex-offenders and "influentials" — parents, relatives and others with close, important relationships with particular dealers. The drug dealers are told that (1) they are valuable to the community, and (2) the dealing must stop. They are offered social services. They are informed that local law enforcement has worked up cases on them, but that these cases will be "banked"(temporarily suspended). Then they are given an ultimatum: If you continue to deal, the banked cases against you will be activated.

This in comparison to our present process of immediately charging people, having their names strewn all through the papers, ultimately convicting and imprisoning them only to watch as they leave prison without cause to do much but repeat the cycle as they leave with criminal records and difficulties in finding jobs.  Does it need to be this way?  Can we help people get off the path to destruction early enough to get them back on the right path? 

Mr. Kennedy also goes into depth about the program’s positive impact on race relations and bridging the gap between the police and the community, helping dispel myths held by both the police as well as the community about the crime occurring.  It managed to get people really talking to understand the different viewpoints and myths held by the police as well as the community by bringing people together to discuss and develop real solutions to the problems.

All of these conversations converged toward a "call-in," a meeting at which everyone could say to the dealers, "Enough!"

The central moment of these call-in meetings comes when community elders, parents and other loved ones look the drug dealers in the eye and say, "We love and care about you. We want you to succeed. We need you alive and out of jail. But if you do not absolutely understand that we disapprove of what you are doing, we are going to set that straight today."

The community is infinitely tougher than anyone else could ever be.

On the law enforcement side, the signal moment occurs when officers tell all the dealers in the room, "We want to take a chance on you. We have done the investigation, and we have cases against you ready to go. You could be in jail today, but we do not want to ruin your life. We have listened to the community. We do not want to lock you up, but we are not asking. This is not a negotiation. If you start dealing again, we will sign the warrant, and you will go to jail."

This strategy does several things: It puts the dealers in a position where they know that the next time they deal drugs, there will be formal consequences. It proves to the community that the police are not part of a conspiracy to fill the prisons with their children. And it frees the community to take a stand — an amazing thing to see.

Finally he outlines the programs success:

The first of these conversations occurred more than four years ago in High Point. Since then, the approach has been replicated in at least 25 other U.S. cities. In each case, the drug market evaporated at the time of the meeting; most of them have not come back. This success has been fairly easy to maintain. Most of the weight is carried by the community, which simply will not let the market come back. If they cannot deal with the situation, they have a new relationship with law enforcement, which will step in.

The difference in these communities is palpable and amazing. The larger lessons are just beginning to be clear to us: We have profoundly misunderstood each other; our current behavior has pushed us to places that none of us liked; and we have all been doing inadvertent but severe harm. We have also learned that community standards can and will do much of the work we currently try to do through law enforcement, that even serious offenders can be reached, and that we can find critical common ground.

These lessons might fundamentally reshape how we think not only about crime, but also about each other.

Is the Ceasefire program worth investigating and trying locally?  The only question is what have we got to lose?

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