Community Passageways founder: Young criminal offenders need mentors, not jail

Sep 26, 2018, 5:26 AM
Community Passageways, solitary confinement...
King County's juvenile detention and youth services center. (King County)
(King County)

For youth mentor and Community Passageways founder Dominique Davis — also known as Coach Dom — the nation’s criminal justice system has not helped turn around the lives of young people who resort to committing crimes.

“Focusing on more patrols in the street, longer jail sentences, more young people going to jail for criminal offenses — I don’t see that it has made a difference in the violence that we’ve been dealing with, in the criminal activity that we’ve been dealing with, in the gang activity that we’ve been dealing with,” Davis said. “I don’t see that a difference that has been made through the punitive way.”

Founded in 2015, Community Passageways is an organization that works to keep young people on a path to career and academic success, and helps those doing jail time to successfully re-integrate into the community. Davis said that the nonprofit “opens up opportunities” for troubled youth, pairing them with mentors “that have been where they’ve been, have experienced the barriers they’ve experienced, and have [come] out of it successfully to change their lives.”

RELATED: King County prosecutor says LEAD program expansion will offer services rather than jail

“I feel like there needs to be something that is deeper, that goes into the root causes of why these young people are taking these actions and gravitating to the streets,” Davis said.

The goal of Community Passageways is to keep non-violent youth offenders out of jail, offering them as an alternative the services and counseling that will help them get back on the straight and narrow, and realize that their lives do have value.

“When you’re getting sentenced to jail and prison time for non-violent offenses, or just getting caught for having a gun, or even some Robbery 1s where nobody got hurt, let’s get these kids a second opportunity to be successful by giving them some opportunities to go back to school, to get a job, an internship, an apprenticeship, to learn some skills,” Davis said.

He acknowledged that “there are some crimes that some people may need to go do some time for,” such as rape or murder. But Davis wants to see the length of these sentences reduced, as well as support for the offenders when they get out of jail. He pointed out that in many cases, people who commit rape have been raped themselves.

“Instead of just locking them up and then letting them out after they served their time to go do something else, there need to be some services put in place,” Davis said.

Kids who commit crimes are often “acting out on the trauma that they’ve already experienced,” Davis said, and putting them in a jail cell only ensures that they’ll be further traumatized, without receiving the adequate mental health support that they need. Then when they get out, Davis said, they “come out hardened.”

He pointed out that the “lock everybody up” justice system itself has contributed to kids going off the deep end at a young age. When kids grow up without a father around because their dads have been sentenced to years in jail, they are more likely to choose young criminals in the streets as their mentors.

“These kids are being raised … by single parents who have to work, and are trying to pay bills and keep lights on and food in the house,” he said. “And so now these kids are being influenced by other young men out here in the street. So the dads aren’t really there to raise these kids.”

The young people with whom Davis has worked — some of whom had multiple criminal offenses on their records — have gone on to achieve feats such as graduating high school, going on to college, attaining high-paying jobs, and even starting their own businesses, he said.

“They’re doing great because they had the right people mentoring them and walking them through the process,” he said.

Davis believes that the answer is having compassion, as a society, for all young people.

“We have to create our own village,” he said. “Community has to heal community by coming together and creating a village to help raise these children … the victim and the perpetrator are all our children, and we need to work with all of these children to keep them on the right track.”

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Community Passageways founder: Young criminal offenders need mentors, not jail