Alabama DAs Work With Educators To Save Futures of Young People While Cutting Costly Case Loads

Alabama district attorneys are saving young lives, delivering increased safety to all citizens and reducing caseloads using a new weapon in the fight against juvenile crime.

For years, district attorneys and educators have been frustrated by the fact they had little more than punishment after the fact to discourage juvenile crime.

The Alabama Compulsory School Attendance Act (on the books for 89 years) gives district attorneys the authority to warn, fine and even imprison parents and guardians who don’t make sure their children attend school and behave properly while there.

Educators have the authority to suspend students from school.

District attorneys and educators can punish with suspensions, notices, fines or imprisonments. But the punishments often don’t change juvenile behavior or deal with the environmental problems that beget bad behaviors. For those same reasons, they don’t stop juveniles from being charged with crimes and going to court. District attorneys and educators need resources outside their traditional roles to accomplish these changes.

The Helping Families Initiative provides these resources.

Today, district attorneys and educators can initiate behavioral, situational and environmental changes that address causes of juvenile crime through Helping Families. They can also reduce trial caseloads by changing behaviors before crimes are committed.

The Helping Families Initiative provides district attorneys with the tools they need to stop juvenile crime before it happens. These tools can help save young lives, protect futures, curtail illegal drug use, cut school drop-out rates, improve school teaching environments and stop the flow of young people into our prisons. These tools are currently being used in six judicial circuits in Alabama.

In addition to saving lives and delivering increased safety, juveniles whose behavior is changed by Helping Families do not end up in the judicial system and become productive citizens.

Helping Families is a community-based, comprehensive way district attorneys, educators and other local leaders can help multiple agencies (law enforcement, public and private social agencies, schools, faith-based organizations and volunteers) work together to help youth and their families on the verge of trouble by focusing and coordinating their efforts. It results in existing agencies teaming up to provide combinations of services that meet the needs of the youth and their families as it elicits extraordinary efforts from social workers, educators, police officers and volunteers and communicates its results to the public.

Helping Families stops bad behavior by solving the problems that lead to it. The key to its success is its collaboration process. It equips district attorneys, law enforcement officers, educators, parents, faith-based institutions, public and private social agencies and volunteers with a shared goal: identifying young people at risk of losing their futures through criminal activities and helping them with existing resources so potential crimes do not happen. Communications barriers between agencies are removed and associates are encouraged to contribute new ideas and efforts.

Young people enter the process by self-identifying themselves through truancy and/or school suspensions for serious discipline problems. Their needs are assessed by case officers and a multi-disciplinary team and met with combinations of services from a full range of agencies that open opportunities for them to use their abilities to build productive lives.

Results are impressive:

  • High school graduations increased from 90 percent to 97 percent
  • 93 percent of Helping Families “graduates” were not suspended again during the following year
  • Helping Families reduced unexcused absences by 24.5 percent since the 2012-2013 term. Out-of-school suspensions in this same system were reduced by 30 percent during the same time period.
  • In Mobile County, 82 percent of Helping Families “graduates” had not been arrested the following year. Before Helping Families, 55 percent of all suspended Mobile County public school students had an active or disposed juvenile record.
  • Research was conducted with 218 youth who successfully completed Helping Families between the years 2008-2013. The youth are now between the ages of 14-22. It determined that as of August 2014, 75 percent of them had no involvement with the justice system after their cases were closed.

All of these results can help reduce the number of cases that must travel through Alabama’s crowded court system. Lack of high school graduation has been shown to be a major factor in choosing a life of crime. Repeated suspensions indicate that suspensions may not be effective. Juvenile crime rates are highest when school is in session. Helping Families “graduates” were not arrested the next year.

Learn more about how you can unleash the power of collaboration of public and private agencies, volunteers, faith-based organizations to stop juvenile crime before it happens by contacting John M. Tyson, Jr. of Helping Families Initiative, former Mobile County District Attorney, and past member and chairman of the Alabama Board of Education.

John M. Tyson, Jr.
Helping Families Initiative
Volunteers of America Southeast

600 Azalea Road
Mobile, AL 36609

(251) 533-1621

Upcoming Events

4th Annual Child Advocacy Day
VOICES for Alabama’s Children
Montgomery, AL
March 16, 2017
“Helping Families Initiative”
Alabama District Attorneys Association
Fairhope, AL
April 6–9, 2017
“Next Generation of K-12 Indicator and response Systems to Increase Students’ Post-Secondary Readiness and Persistence”
A Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported initiative, sponsored by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, Maryland
May 1–3, 2017
“Getting Better at Getting Better”
Carnegie Foundation Summit on Improvement in Education
San Francisco, CA
March 26–30, 2017
“Breaking Down Barriers — Humanity Matters”
National Association of Social Workers — Alabama
Bryant Conference Center
Tuscaloosa, AL
April 24–25, 2017