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Memphis Daily News
Incarcerated Youth Offer Solutions, Hope
January 6, 2016
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

There is a growing concern about the increase of youth violence in the United States, and an equally growing commitment to advance the work of violence prevention and early intervention to prevent youth violence before it occurs. Memphis is no exception, on either issue.

There have been numerous studies done on the conditions that create the risk factors for youth violence.

In seeking solutions, national and local programs have been created to address these factors. Many of these programs developed successful intervention strategies, and are working. Yet, among our youth, a climate of violence, of unleashed anger continues to increase. Something is missing from our solutions.

Poverty does not cause violence. But poverty without hope, poverty that is marked by social exclusion, under-education, unsafe schools, poor living conditions, lack of mobility, racism, neighborhoods mired is gang culture, over-criminalization, drugs, illegal activities or a severely troubled home life can lead to a lack of hope or empathy, a survival mentality, impulsivity and other risk factors that set the course for violent behavior for youth who don’t see a better future for themselves.

What is often missing from our solutions is an important, but often overlooked first step. Give a voice to those without a voice. Ask the people with the problem what is needed to solve the problem. Giving our youth an opportunity to be heard about the issues that directly affect their lives provides solutions from the youth’s perspective that will have positive consequences throughout the broader community. Then, take it a step further, ask those in the juvenile justice system what would have made the difference in their lives.

That is exactly what the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and Bridges did in their collaboration to seek solutions to prevent youth violence; they talked to the youth most affected. Spearheaded by Community Action Coordinator Mahal Barr and Evan Morrison, both from Bridges, a community organization that focuses on youth leadership, the program centers around incarcerated youth in Shelby County being involved in developing the solutions needed to prevent juvenile crime and violence.

“The correction officers and volunteers were very supportive and involved,” said Barr, “but the true genius came from the youth. Their solutions were straightforward and achievable.”

At the end of the sessions, the youth, who named themselves the Incarcerated Brothers Speaking Out For Change, created a document that reads like a handbook for hope for the at-risk youth in our area. Their goal is to help prevent other youth from ending up incarcerated.

The document contains six solutions and the reasons for each. Solutions such as rethinking suspensions and expulsions, more free activities for youth, and mentoring programs were based on their experiences of what would have made a difference in their lives. They would like the opportunity to share their solutions with school and community leaders in an effort to prevent youth violence.

On Jan. 16, the group, along with several others, will have an opportunity to present their idea at the Youth Insight Memphis forum held at Bridges, 477 N. Fifth St, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., free and open to the public.

Taking time to listen could make the difference we need.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

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