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Why Talk About Extracurricular Activities When Juvenile Justice is the Topic?

Last week we began discussing whether extracurricular activities can help to keep Wyoming kids out of trouble. This question arose out of the ongoing consideration of how to keep kids out of jail. The findings of these articles on juvenile justice have been both illuminating and alarming.

Every year Wyoming has close to the highest arrest rates for juveniles in the country. The FBI has recently made 2012 arrest statistics available which will permit us to examine Wyoming’s performance in more detail. The preliminary findings are not promising.

The following chart illustrates 2012 FBI arrest statistics for juveniles ages 10-17 comparing national arrest rates with Wyoming arrest rates. As we discussed in The Troubling Trend of Elementary School Arrests, data associated with the disturbingly growing trend of arrests of children under the age of ten is not consistently available for any state.

2012 National Wy arrests 10 17

As illustrated, Wyoming continues to outperform national standards but not for any metrics of which we should be proud.

According to many academic and scientific studies, including one longitudinal study published in 2000 by Child Development, children who participate in extracurricular activities are less likely to drop out of school and less likely to be arrested. As one cohort commentator said of this study: “This study by Mahoney suggests at least one recommendation that can be made to parents seeking preventive intervention for children at risk. If this child is somewhere between 10 and 14 years of age, and you see patterns of high risk, encourage extracurricular participation.”

This pediatrician’s comments raises one of the core problems with getting people’s attention on programs designed to prevent problems. As another doctor commented about prevention: “…prevention at its best is as dull as watching paint dry. I say this as a preventive medicine specialist with true reverence for the field. But let’s face it -- a heart attack that doesn’t happen lacks drama.” Similarly, high arrest rates and high incarceration rates for juveniles in Wyoming are ongoing problems that our state spends a great deal of time, money and attention trying to fix without much evidence of success.

Shouldn’t we as Wyoming taxpayers and citizens be more interested in preventing the problems associated with more than double the national rate of juvenile arrests?

If eight Wyoming children were arrested per hundred in 2012, what about the other ninety-two? The following chart illustrates the number of Wyoming arrests in 2012 compared to the U.S. Census data indicating the total number of Wyoming children 10-17 in 2012.

2012 Wy Juv 10 17 population arrests

In discussing juvenile justice issues we have developed an anecdotal pair of children. These kids are at some non-specified ages between ten and seventeen. Joe Junior is a “bad kid”. Everyone knows it. He’s been arrested several times and even spent four months in a juvenile facility in a different county from where his family lives. Joe Junior’s permanent record is three inches thick. Whether it is in anyone’s interests to consider Joe Junior a “bad kid” is a topic for a different discussion. By any measurement: academics, behavior, home life, Joe Junior is an at-risk kid. Because Joe Junior has been determined to be at-risk, he and his family qualify to get free counseling for their family problems and Joe Junior’s anger issues. Joe Junior is eligible to go to summer camp with tuition waived. Those months when Joe was in juvie he took yoga classes twice a week and went on a ski trip.

Talk of programs like these and mollycoddling of at-risk kids may not sit well with those of us who believe that actions should have consequences. Bear in mind that the examples above are part of alternative sentencing programs which genuinely are present in Wyoming through the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative.

What about Sally Sue? She’s a kid about the same age as Joe who goes to the same school. She’s never been skiing. She watches reality dance shows but the only yoga or dance classes in her town are scheduled during school and her family can’t afford to drive her to a larger town for dance classes. Sally Sue never skips school and her grades are pretty good.

Sally Sue used to play the clarinet but then she left it in the driveway one day and her Dad accidentally ran it over. They can’t afford to buy a new one. Anyway, the school just cut the funding for band since the new school budget has to pay for the full-time school resource officer(SRO) who is going to keep the school safe. Sally’s permanent record is thin and all the teachers say she is a “sweet girl”.

Sally Sue would like to go to college. Her grades are okay but colleges look for so much more these days. One of the reasons that colleges and universities look at extracurricular activities is that research has long shown that participation in extracurricular activities is an indicator for success:

Early research shows that participation in student activities is linked to better outcomes in a number of domains. The National Center for Educational Statistics (1999) reported that students who participated differed significantly from those who did not in the following ways:

National Center Edu Stats

As we consider policies and budgets that effect all children in our state, we cannot forget that for every kid who is in trouble there are about nine more who are not. Don’t we want to keep those majority kids out of the juvenile justice system and engaged and involved in school?

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Wednesday, 23 August 2017
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