Baltimore Press

Plan Would Expose Kids to Courts

Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway last week chaired a strategic meeting for a new ■ initiative to keep youth out of the judicial system. Entitled “Operation Scratch,” the pro­gram would bring elementary school-aged children into the courthouse to observe suspect­ed criminals being arraigned.

Although similar in tactics to the various other “scared-straight” programs available nationally, this program has been conceived to dispel the “gansta” mythology that sur­rounds street-wise criminals.

“Rather than seeing what’s in the streets, let them see the reality of the courts,” Conaway said to the panel. A broad array of state and local agencies concerned with city youth accepted Conway’s invitation, including the Offices of the State’s

Attorney and Public Defender, the Sheriff’s Department, the School Police, the Department of Juvenile Justice, and the judiciary, in the form of Judge Joseph H. Kaplan, Administrative Judge of the Circuit Court.

Reverend Willie Ray, Chairman of Save Another Youth, commented that Conaway was in a particularly advantageous position to draw together this distinguished group. “This is right on time, with the change of power in this city. People might not answer the telephone for other people. But you [Conaway] don’t have the issues someone like [mayoral candidate] Stokes might have.” As reported in The Baltimore Press on March 15th, Conaway has announced his candida­cy for the Presidency of Baltimore City Council

“Prevention, not Detention” was the mantra of the morning, coined by the retired but indomitable educa­tor Essie Hughes, a long-time friend of Conway, who is co-chair of —and

impetus behind— “Operation Scratch”. A consensus was reached that the children needed to see the arrangements and meet with lawyers and judges so that the program would offer positive role models.

The two juvenile experts on the board cautioned against over-zealous­ness. Dr. Grady Dale of the Department of Juvenile Justice stressed that national programs “Scared Straight and D.A.R.E. don’t do what they say they do, “ and that “no programs work unless some con­nection is made with systems already in place.” Dr. Michael Oidck, Education Specialist for the Baltimore Public Schools, warned that it might be “uncomfortable for children whose family has a member who had been through the Justice Department” and there would be a “need to be sensitive.”

In the words of Dale, a subcommittee was formed to “put meat on the bones.”

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