Conscientious people who work in Texas’ juvenile justice system have tried for years to find ways to rehabilitate young people in trouble – to help them escape what often becomes a downward spiral.
But, as of 2012, recidivism rates were still alarmingly high in the state. According to the state’s juvenile justice department, 50 percent of young folks adjudicated to probation were re-arrested within three years.
That’s the road Charleston White found himself on.
White was 14 years of age, guilty of first-degree murder, and sentenced to 12 years under Texas juvenile law. He spent seven years at the Giddings State School in the 1990s and when he turned 21 he was free.
Now he’s looking to help kids that were in his situation with the HYPE program. White shares his experiences in juvenile detention and its different approach to kids in trouble.
White says the Giddings School took a different tack than we see today – they helped young offenders understand their lives, including any childhood trauma they may have experienced. Offenders had a close relationship with their overseers, in what White calls a “nurturing” environment.
“We didn’t call them juvenile correctional officers – we called them house parents,” White says. “They didn’t treat us like criminals – they treated us like children who had been dealing with some severe life problems.”
White says he credits that relationship and the school itself for helping turn around his life and those of his peers, whom most people “considered the worst of the worst.”
“Our juvenile system back then gave us everything that we needed to get out here in life and be successful,” White says.
He says his generation was the first to be sentenced after juveniles began being tried as adults. The Giddings School approach isn’t common these days because lawmakers didn’t know whether it was working or not.
“Out of fear and out of ignorance, in 2007 they did an overhaul of the Texas youth commission and transferred into the Texas juvenile justice department,” White says.
Now we have politicians fighting to do away with the juvenile system, White says, and move it into the adult system.