Federal program aims to keep kids on the right side of law

By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

U.S. District Judge Mark A. Goldsmith, a federal judge in the Flint office of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, has a plan to match elementary school children with adult mentors in an effort to reduce the number of future lawbreakers.

The pilot project is called the Flint Youth Initiative (FYI), and Goldsmith, in a letter introducing the program, hopes it helps "keep young people in Flint on the right side of the law."

Goldsmith said his impetus to start the program comes from his three years as a federal judge and six years previous to that as an Oakland County Circuit Court judge. He's seen more than his share of people coming through the wrong side of the criminal justice system.

"And I came to the conclusion that we, as a court, should engage in some sort of effort to make whatever possible changes that result, if we could, a reality," he said.

Goldsmith said FYI will be about teaching those youngsters good citizenship skills, what the law is about, and stress the importance of avoiding drugs and gun violence.

"And we think that, by creating meaningful relationships with kids, and presenting them role models for an alternative kind of lifestyle, that maybe we can have an impact on those children before they end up walking down the wrong path," Goldsmith said.

It's no secret that the Flint area has had more than it's share of crime. One look at the dockets of federal court is all one needs to do to drive that point home, with an over-abundance of crimes involving drugs and weapons. And it affects not only the networks of those immediately connected to a defendant and a victim, but also impacts the "quality of life" of the community which is "degraded by criminal activity," Goldsmith said.

It leads to a "loss of personal safety and security, so it's a significant challenge, and anything we can do to put a dent in this will all be to the good," he said.

FYI has two components. The first is a "Lunch Buddy" program where an adult teams up with a child who has been identified by school officials as someone in need of additional attention. The pair would meet once a week for lunch at the school. Hopefully, that adult could mentor the child and teach good values. Goldsmith said studies show that intensive, one-on-one encounters like these offer the best hope of creating a positive and long-lasting impact on a child.

The second component of FYI is a "broader kind of approach," Goldsmith said, which would involve perhaps members of the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, attorneys, judges and other in the law enforcement and justice communities making presentations on topics such as citizenship, personal safety, and drug violence to larger groups at the school, several times each year.

FYI is a pilot program now, beginning at Doyle/Ryder Elementary School for grades 1-6 this fall.

People in any walk of life are welcome to volunteer.

Published: Thu, Sep 12, 2013