Teenagers get into trouble. They always have, but when the trouble involves serious, violent crime, that's reason for concern.
This year, underage Jackson residents have been charged with some very adult crimes.
Just yesterday, charges against a 15-year-old boy were upgraded to murder after the 14-year-old girl he allegedly shot in the head died.
So, what are the answers?
After months of investigation, here's what I learned in this 3 On Your Side investigation, Saving a Generation.
"It was just me being around the wrong crowd lead to stuff like that," said inmate "Joe".
At age 17, he went from being close to high school graduation to becoming an inmate in the Hinds County Detention Center. That was a year ago and the teen, we will call "Joe", to protect his identity, is still waiting to go to court for house burglary and armed robbery.
"But you know, I was just trying to make extra money," added "Joe", "I don't know why. It wasn't worth it. It wasn't worth my life."
The year 2017, a shocker when it comes to Jackson teens being charged with violent crimes; a 6-year-old shot and killed inside his mother's stolen car, 3 teens arrested...
A 16-year-old charged as an adult was accused of shooting a 13-year-old student in the back at a Jackson bus stop.
Another 16-year-old was shot dead after a dice game goes sour at a park.
A 13-year-old was arrested for stabbing a 61-year-old woman, a neighbor, stealing her car and driving it to school; and the list goes on.
"Yeah, I see a lot more kids my age committing crimes, " added "Joe". "I can't say that what made me do the things that I did cuz I didn't have my daddy in the house. I cant say that because it's plenty of people out here doing the right thing without their daddy in the house. It just the simple fact that I just made the wrong choice, you know."
Hinds County Sheriff's Department spokesman, Major Pete Luke tells me 11 juveniles are incarcerated, right now, at the Raymond Detention Center, charges ranging from murder, armed robbery to carjacking and kidnapping.
"Howard, I've never seen it this bad," said Hinds County Sheriff Victor Mason. "If you look at this generation now, they all have guns and don't mind using them. And the thing that is scary, they don't respect law enforcement either.."
Jackson police chief Lee Vance agrees.
"But I think the one thing that disturbs me is there appears to be not the same value attached to a human life," said Chief Vance. "Taking of a human life by some in our society seems to be too casual. It's almost like a video game type mentality, except in the streets, the individual does not get back up."
Both Chief Vance and Sheriff Mason say a number of factors play into the rash of teen crime, including lack of guidance, peer pressure, and drugs.
"It could be drugs, but you know, some people just don't do without drugs," said Joe. "It just be a lot of stuff going on in their life."
"There's got to be a solution, but I can tell you, this place is not it," added Sheriff Mason.
One solution revisited just last week by Jackson city councilman Kenneth Stokes, a teen curfew; housing offenders in the old Community Improvement headquarters.
Asked what he thinks needs to be done to keep young people like him from committing crimes, "Joe" said, "I think, you know, people need to mentor people sometimes, you know, showing the things they could be doing instead of doing the wrong things."
And those mentoring programs do exist. For example, Jackson Police Athletic League or PALS program, keeping young people off the streets and on the path to championships, while teaching life skills since 2004 and Boys and Girls Clubs, providing afternoon safe havens.
There is also the 100 Black Men of Jackson. On this night they are not only mentoring young people, but partnering with parents, honoring youngsters who've done all they've been asked to better themselves and take it to the next level.
Leroy Walker is one of the founding members of the Jackson chapter, now in its 28th year.
"We see a transformation of the children when they are mentored by us," said Walker.
Mentees are exposed to a variety of positive experiences, preps for college or the workplace, inspiring field trips, and coming soon, a greenhouse where young people will actually grow AND sell fruits and vegetables, coupling healthy eating with business skills development.
There's also an aquatic program that has already yielded major benefits.....
"Well. two of our attendees, out of 289 this past summer, were getting ready to enter West Point. Both from Jim Hill. Both in the same class," said 100 Black Men President and former Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson. "They didn't know how to swim and in order to get into West Point, you need to know how to swim. So, they learned how to swim here and they're going to West Point."
"Those things will not make the news, but they are certainly noteworthy," added Johnson.
Asked if he thought there's hope to save a generation, Johnson said, "Oh, no question, what other choice do we have, when you think about it."
Johnson said the various organization all help, but he said it truly takes a village and 100 Black Men is part of that village.
"Joe" also has hope. He said his goal now is to go to college and become an architect.
"I could've been doing something positive and still be at home with my family if I hadn't made that wrong choice," said Joe. "And you gotta learn from your mistakes, so all I can say, I just need another chance and you know, I ain't gonna have no choice but to do the right thing, because I done seen what it's like. I done been through this situation."
Here is the contact information for the organizations mentioned in this report:
Perhaps the most important thing you can do to help is to say something if you see troubling behavior in your neighborhood.
I would also like to hear from you with ideas and other organizations that are out there designed to Save a Generation. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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