Photo by Heather Middleton
By Mehgaan Jones
A group of ninth-graders at Riverdale High School received a strong message, this week, from representatives of the Clayton County District Attorney's Office, and the Clayton County Juvenile Court, about the severity of penalties for delinquent offenses.
"We want to raise their awareness and their knowledge," said Adolphus Graves, a Clayton County Juvenile Court detention alternative coordinator.
He explained that the goal is to keep youths who are on the verge of being influenced to commit crimes, out of trouble, and away from those who are already committing offenses.
For the past six years, Graves along with Gary DuBose, director of Program Development, at the Office of the Clayton County District Attorney, have conducted seminars for students at schools in Clayton County.
"We use role playing and interaction to give them "real" facts of what happens when you break the law as a juvenile, in an effort to eliminate misinformation they get from peers, and older teens, who may attempt to persuade them to do wrong," said Graves.
"I believe that it is a wonderful program for our youth...especially our ninth-graders," said Riverdale High School Principal Dr. Terry Young.
Young said that younger teens are sometimes negatively influenced by older students. "When those [older] students commit crimes, a lot of times they take advantage of the younger kids," he said.
"We like to bring programs like this so they [students] will be knowledgeable about the law...so they know the severity of what can happen."
Wednesday's seminar included a presentation which covered conflict resolution, offenses, consequences of each offense, and the "Seven Deadly Sins" for which juveniles can be charged as adults, according to seminar coordinators.
The seven deadly sins include violent offenses such as murder, rape, and armed robbery with a firearm, coordinators said.
According to Graves and DuBose, if a child, age 13 or older is charged with the offense of armed robbery, or armed robbery party to a crime, he or she can face trial, as an adult, in Superior court.
The potential consequence of armed robbery with a firearm is a minimum of 10 years without parole, if the offender admits to the crime, according to Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson. She added that offenders could get up to life without parole.
Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steven Teske is an avid supporter of the seminar.
"The public needs to be aware of the number of kids who are arrested for the seven deadly sins," he said.
He stressed the importance of educating not only teens, but parents as well, about the consequences of committing delinquent crimes.
"If the public is made more aware of the physiological aspect of teenage crime, there would be more appreciation for educating adolescents," Teske added.
Graves and DuBose also presented the students with a video about the consequences of armed robbery.
Tracy Graham Lawson said that she came up with the idea to create a video for middle school and high school students.
Lawson and DuBose collaborated with students from Clayton County Public Schools to create the movie.
"Clayton County high school students wrote and starred in the movie," said Graham Lawson.
"We started with posters [to present the effects of serious crimes], but realized that we need to do a video to capture the kids' attention," she said.
The video portrays a group of teens, who commit armed robbery, and receive a tough jail sentence.
It has been shown at local churches, and youth centers, in Clayton County, according to Lawson.
"The entire movie is realistic...it [criminal offenses] happens in our county everyday," she said. Lawson added that she is interested to see, in the future, whether armed robbery crimes have decreased.
"I am hoping that I can save hundreds of kids' lives," she said.
Riverdale High School ninth-grader, Rashad Canty, who attended the seminar this week, said the presentation was informative.
"A lot of people did not know about the laws...you can easily get caught up," said Canty.
He said that he does not hang around negative crowds, but knows people who do. "I think it is good, and they should keep doing it for every ninth-grade group that comes through," said Canty.
"I think it is a good idea that they did that [presentation]...it should help us later in life make decisions on what we should do," said Riverdale High School student, Marquia Bell.
Before the seminar began, the students, at Riverdale High School were asked to answer five questions about Georgia laws, to test their knowledge.
After the seminar, the students were quizzed, to determine what they learned during the presentation. According to Juvenile Court detention alternative coordinator Adolphus Graves, students are most surprised about the amount of jail time that teens can receive.
"The real joy comes when you see a senior...and they say 'the information you gave me three years ago really helped,' " said Graves.