Teens, mentors understand urgency of intervening in youth’s lives

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - So far this year, at least six people under age 20 have been killed. The city knows finding solutions to the crime is an urgent matter.

During Wednesday's city-county council's public safety and criminal justice committee meeting, intervening to help our youth thrive was a major topic of discussion.

Councilors approved a measure which would further focus crime-prevention grant money. They are relying on groups with members who might have a criminal past, but can meet teens where they are now.

"As long as there's people like us and we stay doing good in school and getting good grades, then the people around us are going to follow eventually," Shane Shepherd said.

Shepherd is a teenager who serves as a mentor for his father's organization, B4UFall. He said crime issues are not always as they appear.

"Most crimes are committed because of financial purposes," Shepherd asserted. "They do it because they're hungry and they need it."

Shepherd's girlfriend Kayla Bell also helps mentor her peers in our community. She knows conflict resolution is essential.

"Being able to control your emotions and your anger so you won't get upset and go out and do something silly or crazy," Bell stated.

Bell and Shepherd sat among a crowded public safety committee meeting as adults in the room spoke about safety plans for people their age.

"So many young people get expelled and they don't find a place," Tim Moriarty said. "We need to intervene as early as possible and interrupt the so-called school to prison pipeline."

Moriarty serves as the Special Counsel to Mayor Joe Hogsett and Chair of Mayor's Criminal Justice Reform Task Force. The city supports several grassroots organizations which work to meet young people where they are: at their schools and in their neighborhoods.

"We're starting as early as possible in intervening so hopefully law enforcement doesn't have to," Moriarty said.

The Marion County Juvenile Probation Department released the latest data from 2012 to 2019. They report referrals to the juvenile justice system have decreased 67%, juvenile felony filings have decreased 58%, and juvenile detention admissions have decreased 48%.

"That doesn't mean that there aren't kids out there who aren't challenges to public safety, and challenges to the whole system, but by and large, still their brains aren't developed," Lena Hackett of Community Solutions Inc. said. "So, when we try to treat them like adults, that response doesn't work for them."

The city is currently working to unveil a juvenile justice task force. Moriarty said it will be made up of community partners, scholars and experts which will collect necessary data to reform the county's criminal justice system.

"Maybe they're housing insecure or maybe they're food insecure," Hackett said. "If we can take care of those things, then typically we see the youth growing out of that criminogenic need."

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