Oct. 1, 2008 — Angered over what he calls "the plague of criminality upon our territory that we fight every day," Gov. John deJongh Jr. called on the community to become more accountable for fostering a wholesome environment for young people.
DeJongh's plea came Wednesday in a speech at Government House focused on prisons and crime, trailing on the heels of the Sept. 20 escape of three prisoners from the Golden Grove Correctional Facility on St. Croix, one of whom remains at large.
"Let me speak directly and very plainly," deJongh said, referencing the arrest of Liz Brache, a St. Croix mother of three who allegedly assisted one of the runaway convicts. "And let me speak as a parent who knows — as all parents know — that the job of raising children is not easy, not part-time and is not one where we can guarantee results. But what could that mother have been thinking?
"All the police in the world — and all the public cooperation in the world — will not break the cycle of crime and violence in our community until we all do a lot better job in raising our children. If we do not, the supply of new offenders will be constant, the agony continuing, the costs prohibitive."
While calling for more-responsible parenting, deJongh also praised members of the Mon Bijou community on St. Croix for working in tandem with police to track down two of the three escapees: Carlos Burgos, who was captured without incident just before midnight Sunday, and returned to Golden Grove, and Edwardo Carmona Jr., who died early Sunday morning after getting shot in the leg by law-enforcement officers. Both men were serving time for murder. A $10,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the recapture of the third escapee, Derrick Fredericks, serving five years for burglary and regarded by authorities as "extremely dangerous."
"Just as the people of Mon Bijou said 'enough is enough,' so too must every parent and guardian in these islands," deJongh said. "Let's talk about reality. Every parent has the right that the government does not have — to go into their child's room and see if there is a gun or drugs or property that is obviously not theirs, but is more likely stolen."
He went on to encourage parents who might not be willing to call the police to "… talk to your minister or priest." He continued, "Call someone who you trust. But do something."
Asked what his administration was doing, deJongh was quick to rattle off a list of initiatives.
He cited new early-childhood-education programs being implemented along with efforts by the Department of Education in "retooling and looking very hard at our career and technical programs." He also cited the Department of Labor's new YOUTHNET initiative, aimed at addressing the needs of at-risk youth, as well as what he said was Labor's efforts to offer job training and not just referral services.
Since 2002, the territory has seen a dramatic increase in so-called "detached youth," or adolescents between the ages of 16 and 19 who are not enrolled in school and are not employed. According to the latest Kids Count Data Book 2007, which is a compilation of statistics on child well-being in the territory, 24 percent of our youth are detached, compared to not quite five percent in 2002.
It's a fact that Kids Count Project Director Judith Richardson called "nothing short of a nightmare" in a statement earlier this month.
The community must work together to support young people, deJongh said.
"Long-term we all know that there is one, and only one way, to reduce the pressure on our prisons, and that is to lessen the number of our people — primarily young people — who arrive at their gates in handcuffs, convicted of a crime," deJongh said. "And that we can only do so by making sure our young people become better students and citizens rather than the fodder of the criminal-justice system. And that we all know is the responsibility of us all: first parents and families, then government and private sector — all of us."
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