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  • Unusual partners working together on shared goal

    Aug 01, 2013 | Read More News
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    Task Force membersOn a recent Wednesday night, a rather diverse group gathered at what was once a bank. There were skateboarders and hipsters sitting alongside young professionals, a county supervisor, a juvenile court judge, a police officer and a state lawmaker.

    It was the first of what is expected to be many get-togethers held by the Pima County Juvenile Justice Task Force on Racial & Ethnic Disparities. And if you think it was the latter group who created the task force you would be wrong.

    The roots of the task force were firmly planted several years ago by a group of outcast teenagers who found a home of sorts at Skrappy’s. In 1995, 10 kids needed a place to play and listen to underground music. They asked Kathy and Bill Wooldridge for help and Skrappy’s was born.

    Soon, Kathy Wooldridge found herself becoming the go-to person if a teen needed help due to an unplanned pregnancy, drug addiction or homelessness, said Alisha Vasquez, task force member.

    Teens in trouble with the law also began coming to Skrappy’s, knowing they could get a ride to court or with help understanding the process, said Marcos Perez, another task force member.

    It worked, though. Before too long, JAIL members were actively involved in the court’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, which seeks to eliminate the inappropriate use of juvenile detention through the development of community-based alternatives.

    They also joined on-going discussions about Disproportionate Minority Contact, helping the court and other community stakeholders come up with 89 recommendations to address the issue.

    Now, a couple of years later, JAIL has been transformed into the Pima County Juvenile Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Disparities and is ramping up its efforts to reduce Disproportionate Minority Contact.

    During that recent get-together, the Task Force unveiled the Probation Pals program.

    Once a child is released from detention, Alisha or Marcos will meet with the child and find out such things as where they live, what interests they have and how much community service they have to perform. They will then come up with an action plan to make sure the child successfully completes their probation so they don’t wind up back in the detention center.

    Because Alisha and Marcos themselves were Skrappy’s kids and remain current with today’s music, particularly Hip-Hop, they believe they are still “cool enough” to be able to engage the kids, Alisha said.

    On the flip-side, Alisha said she can truthfully tell the kids the folks at Pima County Juvenile Court, particularly Presiding Judge Karen Adam, truly care about their well-being.

    “She’s a real person, she’s not just a presiding judge,” Alisha said of Judge Adam. “She’s someone I can talk to the youth about. I tell them that if there’s anything they want to share, she’s one who will actually listen to them.”

     Pima County Juvenile Court Center Presiding Judge Karen Adam
     Pima County Juvenile Court Center Presiding Judge Karen Adam

    The Task Force already has a group of community stakeholders willing to help the kids with community service or social services. They include Tierra Y Libertad Organization, Tucson Community Food Bank, Las Milpitas de Cottonwood Community Garden, RebelArte Collective, Emerge! Center Against Domestic Abuse, and the Southern Arizona Against Sexual Assault

    However, the Task Force hopes to find additional culturally relevant organizations willing to mentor and guide young people between 10 and 25. In addition, the kids can gain knowledge and experience while working with the organizations and use them while seeking employment.

    “Our goal is that once the youth comes familiar with the organization, its programming and its employees and volunteers, that organic mentor-ships and partnerships occur between at-risk youth and an adult they can trust,” the Task Force said in a news release. “These relationships have proven to be one of the most protective factors in keeping youth from system involvement.” During the get-together Judge Adam also spoke about how the court and task force members were afraid of each other in the beginning.

    She quickly came to admire their dedication to an incredibly complex cause and the professionalism with which they approached the issue, she said.
    “Our (detention) numbers were terrible in the beginning,” Judge Adam said. “Why would anyone want to be engaged in something that appeared to be so futile? And yet, you came.”

    She is so grateful the Task Force, the court and other community stakeholders have come together.
    The court needs community partners to engage families and to be culturally aware, Judge Adam said.

    Article by Kim Smith, Pima County Juvenile Court Center Public Information Officer.

     Contact the Task Force
     E-mail Marcos Perez @ pc.az.tf@gmail.com