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Community forum seeks solutions to prison pipeline

Mike Desmond/WBFO News

There are no easy solutions for the problem of young people going to prison. That was the message from a community meeting last night in the Merriweather Library.Erie County Legislature Chair Betty Jean Grant has been holding a series of meetings on crime and violence in the city. This time, the topic was keeping young people from going to prison.

The audience in the library was told there are programs to keep young people on the straight and narrow and programs to help them if they get in trouble.

Lawyer and former State Trooper John Elmore says a lot depends on parents. Elmore says parents have to keep kids in school, know who their kids hang with, and learn the value of a job.

"When you're with a group of people and one of them is doing something bad, it could be slashing a tire, breaking a window or possession of some contraband, you have to teach your kids to be a leader so that they tell the ones in their group not to do what it is that is wrong because when the police arrest somebody, they are arresting everybody in their group," Elmore said.

Abdul Beyah says too often, adults don't understand the kids and don't even understand their language.

"I'm talking about understanding the feelings that they have concerning the places that they live in. That's why they do the things they do, they destroy things because they don't ever see themselves going anywhere in this community. They can't leave it. They're tied to it," Beyah said.

Audience members were told there is a new effort to help young people, a court diversion program for young people accused of non-violent misdemeanors. Judge E. Jeanette Ogden says it's too early to say if the program works, but it might make up for teens who make the wrong decisions in the wrong place.

"If we help one child out of ten, we've made a difference," Ogden said.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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