Letter to the Editor

The other problem of “kids in cages” is happening across our country: juveniles stuck in our criminal justice system.

Our criminal justice system incarcerates an appalling number of juveniles who committed crimes as teenagers. These prisoners are overwhelmingly male and disproportionately minority. These are the forgotten “kids in cages” that we need to shine a light on and stop the school-to-prison pipeline. The first step is keeping teens out of the criminal justice system in the first place.

Successful approaches to reducing juvenile crime, particularly among young men, are few. However, a stable nuclear family and regular school attendance consistently result in drastically lower rates of juvenile offenses.

Outside the home and classroom, a wide array of “diversionary programs” have also proven successful. The most common is school sports and activities. Although not conclusively proven, studies suggest a teen participating in organized athletics is far less likely to get in to trouble than his idle friends.

At the local level, proactive programs are offered through a variety of government agencies, public/private partnerships, and charitable organizations. The Huntington Human Services Department works in conjunction with the Huntington Youth Bureau, Family Service League, Tri-CYA, REACH supporting families in need and teen programs. Our Parks Department supports countless seasonal activities and sports teams. Every town on Long Island has similar agencies and programs. Police athletic leagues across the country know it’s better to coach teens than to catch them.

Criminality peaks around age 19 then drops off significantly. These programs are vital to reducing teen offenses from happening in the first place. As we emerge from the pandemic, we must continue to support these programs and strongly encourage our kids to participate in them – and keep them out of cages.

Ed Smyth, Huntington Town Councilman

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