Address Trauma to Stop Youth Crime Cycles | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Address Trauma to Stop Youth Crime Cycles

The life and death of Charles McDonald was difficult to hear about for several obvious reasons. First, violence in the community is something that the city's residents as well as its police force are actively working to stem. The federally funded Violence Reduction Network just chose Jackson as one of its network cities, a move that should bring resources and ideas to curb and prevent violent crime. The city could use the help. Jackson reported 44 homicides in 2015. So far in 2016, there have been 55.

Violence can sow seeds of fear in a community, but scientifically speaking, it literally leaves trauma in its wake. The psychological damage of witnessing violence can lead to more severe health consequences, from suicidal behavior to complex mental-health problems.

Trauma exists on a spectrum, and the more frequently a person witnesses it, the more likely he or she will shut down the parts of the brain that register and feel pain. Their bodies react by shutting down their emotions bit by bit, slowly becoming less human, less able to feel a spectrum of emotion without being re-traumatized.

To understand McDonald's death and its consequences, trauma needs to be at the center of the conversation. He was a teenager who had cycled in and out of Henley-Young Juvenile Justice Center at least eight times before his death. Right before he died, he had admitted he had a problem and needed help. His mother was taking him to the juvenile detention center, where, in an ideal world, he could have received the therapy or rehabilitation he needed, safe from a community that had the potential to re-traumatize him. But even if he had made it to Henley Young, that support would not have been there.

McDonald jumped out of his mother's car and ran toward his death and a gunshot that ended his life. He never got the chance to get the help that he needed to turn his life around and avoid further crime, and that tragedy is true even kids sitting in Henley-Young today. While juveniles in Hinds County are better off now than they ever have been thanks to a federal consent decree, we have hard work still ahead.

The way the juvenile-justice system works in this state can best be described as cyclical. If a child steals a car, he goes and sits in Henley Young for 21 days (unless the judge orders him to Oakley) and is then released.

The child gets no real therapy, educational program or good alternative place to get help. The public and lawmakers have not had the will to provide the needed funding or to look at evidence-based solutions that held a kid like McDonald and, as a result, make the community safer.

This will take the full force of everyone involved in the system from the judge to the youth counselors on board—to citizens demanding it.

We need solutions that address trauma to save kids' lives. Village, it's time to step up.

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