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Young Offenders Try Art Lessons


Kansas City, MO – How do you rehabilitate young people who break the law? More and more, juvenile justice experts believe that just locking up young people is not the answer. Instead, they believe it's important to teach kids ways to manage the emotions that get them in trouble, especially anger. But traditional methods, like talk therapy, sometimes don't reach youth with emotions locked deep inside.

Zach, Antonio and Maurice are participants in Jackson County's Sentenced to the Arts program at McCune Juvenile Detention Center in Independence. We've agreed not to use their last names, since they're minors. Each year, about 800 young people in the court system take regular arts classes, intended to help them learn discipline, values, and to express their feelings. The program operates in juvenile detention centers, alternatives schools and community agencies. Local artists use a variety of mediums including dance, drumming, art and poetry, to try to help the youth improve their behavior. Charles Jones of Reality Productions teaches music as part of Sentenced to the Arts.

Sentenced to the Arts was started 10 years ago, as an initiative of the COMBAT anti-drug unit in the Jackson County Prosecutor's office. The program costs about $250 thousand a year, and is paid for mostly by federal funds. Program administrators report that participants are less likely to get referred back to the courts for other crimes. Antonio, Maurice and Zach all say the arts classes have had an effect on them.

The quarter-cent sales tax which funds COMBAT is up for voter renewal in a special election in November. So in upcoming weeks, KC Currents will be looking more closely at this tax - at its history, and its effectiveness in combating drug use and crime in Jackson County.

This story was produced for KC Currents. To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KC Currents Podcast.

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Susan admits that her “first love” was radio, being an avid listener since childhood. However, she spent much of her career in mental health, healthcare administration, and sports psychology (Susan holds a PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Bloch School of Business at UMKC.) In the meantime, Wilson satisfied her journalistic cravings by doing public speaking, providing “expert” interviews for local television, and being a guest commentator/contributor to KPRS’s morning drive time show and the teen talk show “Generation Rap.”
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