Program aims to prevent crime with trip to courtroom

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) –  A new program in Fort Wayne is aimed at preventing crime by taking kids into the courtroom. On Friday about a dozen sixth through eighth-graders from the Timothy L. Johnson Academy were in Allen County Superior Court 2 while several offenders were sentenced.

“Prevention is key to stopping people from ending up in Judge Wendy Davis’ courtroom or any other courtroom,” Iric Headly said. “If you think violence is not a big deal, you’ll end up in a courtroom some day.”

Headly helped create the program CSI: Choose Success Initiative. The non-profit ICON Family has worked to put it together for about the last year. Part of the program is showing the kids up close that crime has consequences.

“At a very young age you need to learn truly what it means when you start to make bad choices of drugs, moving to the streets or getting involved in gangs. Once you get there sometimes it’s too late you’ll do things and make decisions you can’t reverse,” Judge Wendy Davis said.

In Davis’s courtroom Friday, some defendants were sentenced to prison, others to probation and others released from custody. Seeing real-life reactions to crime hit home for many of the students.

“I don’t want to end up there. My dad did. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be like that,” Ahmad Thomas said.

Thomas, 13, is going to be an eighth-grader in the fall. He wants to be a basketball player someday, but also plans to go to college.

“I learned about getting an education and staying in school and don’t get in trouble and don’t go to jail,” Thomas said.

Nyjah Henderson-Johnson, 14, just finished eighth grade at Timothy L. Johnson.

“Crime is going to hurt your family because they know they raised you better than what you’re becoming,” she said. “I’m going to work on my studies as hard as I can and try, not try, but achieve. Just go for it.”

The second half of the CSI program was a trip to IPFW so the kids could see the alternative to a life of crime.

“It provided an opportunity to compare, contrast and review. Courtroom versus college. The freedoms of college versus the restrictions of going to jail and that will allow them to simply critically think through a decision and say, ‘I prefer to go to college versus going to a courtroom and standing in front of a judge who’s going to determine my freedom,” Headley said.

Thursday the students also had a four-hour classroom session.

“We defined violence. Defined manhood. Defined womanhood. Looked at how our participants look at women and how they look at manhood and how they look at violence,” Headley said.

While the CSI program was already in the works of being created before last year’s high homicide count, Headley said it shows why the program is so important.

“With the peak in crime, it gives us an opportunity to really combat it by educating them on what it really does to our families, our communities and what it does to loved one who really loved the people who were hurt or killed. The more we allow that to go on and not address it, the more they become desensitized to it and that leads to behavior that they themselves may do those crimes,” Headley said.

Judge Davis is a strong advocate for early education and intervention.

“Once they come to our adult courtrooms, a lot of times, it’s too late. A program like this is essential to our community to grow these beautiful kids up to understand what it means to be a good member in the community,” Davis said.

While she wanted the kids to realize crimes have consequences, she also hoped they learned that the criminal courts are designed to be fair.

“If you make a bad decision and show the criminal courts you can be truly rehabilitated, we’re not always just sending everyone to the Indiana Department of Corrections. Prison is for those who hurt the community and for those who don’t have any desire to be part of the community,” she said.

Several of the cases she heard Friday were sentenced to probation in the Hoosiers’ Opportunity Probation with Enforcement (HOPE) program, which is an intensive probation program.

“Life is hard. Stay in school. Make good decisions. If those around you are making bad decisions, you make a good decision. That’s hard stuff. And sometimes at a young age you need that extra encouragement from the school system or teachers or mentors to get you down that road,” Davis said.

Headley hopes the CSI program will be expanded to other schools and organizations too.

For more information on the CSI program or ICON Family, send an email to iconfamily@aol.com

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