WASHINGTON – Attorney General Joseph Curran vowed Friday to find 2002 mentors this year to work with youth, saying prevention is better than prosecution for preventing juvenile crime.
“The answer to law enforcement problems is in prevention,” Curran said. “Kids need an adult presence.”
Curran said the idea for Mentor Maryland came during travels around the state, when children told him they wanted more adults caring about them than just their parents and teachers.
He said the need is real: Maryland has the second-highest rate of teen killers and the country’s highest number of handgun shooting victims under age 18 per capita.
The program aims to find mentors to intervene in the lives of the children considered to be at risk of getting into trouble — estimated by some to be as much as 25 percent of the state’s school-age kids. Curran’s office describes at- risk youth as those with only one parent or those who live in poverty.
The attorney general’s office is working with Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations to develop the program and it expects to attract other non-profit groups. Curran spokesman Sean Caine said the non-profits will screen, train and place the mentors with the children.
Curran said he has organized an advisory council of community and business leaders around the state to recruit volunteer mentors and refer them to non- profit organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters. He also said he has commitments from 10 colleges and universities to recruit volunteers.
Caine said the program will cost little in the short term and save taxpayers money in the long run. The non-profits will bear the brunt of the background investigations, training and overhead, Caine said, and the state should realize long-term savings from reduced rates of juvenile crime.
About 70 members of the attorney general’s staff have tried mentoring at- risk youths themselves, Curran said. He said they have mentored seventh- and eight-graders in South Baltimore for two years.
Curran has also discussed the idea for an anti-crime mentoring program with the attorneys general of Virginia and Alabama, who are considering similar programs in their states.
Delegate James Hubbard, D-Prince George’s, endorsed Mentor Maryland. He said that in his 24 years at the Prince George’s Sheriff’s Department he has seen a lot of kids behind bars who lacked mentors.
Denise Williams, a vice president at Big Brothers Big Sisters, said the group’s National Capital Area office gets 150 calls a day from children and adults requesting youth mentors. She said the requests come from such organizations as courts, law enforcement, schools and churches.
Gaywood Elementary School Principal Traketa Wray said Friday that the mentoring program at her Prince George’s County school is successful in reaching kids before they become criminals. She said mentoring improves the kids’ self- esteem.
“They make better choices,” Wray said.
Curran said he had not discussed his proposal with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who has made crime initiatives a focus of her tenure, but he did not think it would step on her toes. Colleen Mahoney, Townsend’s director of policy, agreed and said the program would likely complement many backed by the lieutenant governor.