We have lost a great leader in Joe Hackney, who has announced he will not run again for the North Carolina House of Representatives. Joe has been a great environmentalist, cleaning up our water and air and preserving open space. Joe has steered a course of helping all North Carolinians; he’s been a stalwart for our great universities and education system and a strong and steady leader, both for me personally in the legislature and for our state.
As Speaker, he restored integrity and respect to the legislature at a crucial time. Joe was responsible for major changes in ethics regulations, which set the standards for those carrying out the legislature’s business. Joe achieved prominence as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, earning the admiration of legislators across the United States. Joe has been an extraordinary advocate for the people of North Carolina. He will be missed like no other as he leaves the legislature.
I attended two important activities last week that are supported by our state. At an Orange County forum, the Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention presented successes in reducing the number of our youth in detention centers from 975 in 2000 to 296 today. Serving children in the community with wrap-around services involving parents, schools, mental health and court counselors means only the most violent and difficult children who present a public safety hazard are incarcerated. Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils that determine the best use of state money to help youth within the community are comprised of local people who are most familiar with resources within the community. Mentoring, tutoring, after-school programs, arts and even Karate are available for these troubled youth to make a positive change in their lives.
The face that 40 percent of children involved in the Juvenile Justice system have serious mental health problems is astounding. We know that detention does not change behavior and often leads to a life of criminal activity, whereas treating children in the community means they are much less likely to become involved in the criminal justice system again. One of the areas of great concern is the disproportionate number of minority youth who become involved with the system. Efforts are being made to find the causes and effective remedies. Recidivism drives the growth in the prison population. If we can prevent troubled youth from continuing criminal activity, then that will make a difference in our prison growth in the future.
I am sad to lose a colleague in the Juvenile Justice area who has worked so hard to benefit our children. Rep. Alice Bordsen has decided against running for reelection in Alamance County. Alice has helped steer the juvenile justice into a therapeutic model in youth development centers and promoted community services. She is leading the legislation to change the age from 16 to 18 when children are charged as adults in the criminal justice system. She and I are also exploring—along with church groups—restorative justice, a model for healing victims and showing offenders the harm they have done to others, including their families.
The second event was the opening of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities and the Angelman Syndrome Foundation. A breakthrough on research on this syndrome came about from the work of the CIDD. In addition to research, a clinic will provide services for the children with Angelman and their families. We are fortunate to have such talented and dedicated people in our area.
Paul Wellstone’s advice fits today’s political turmoil well: “There are three critical ingredients to democratic renewal and progressive change in America: good public policy, grassroots organizing and electoral politics.” We must all contribute to move us forward during difficult times. Ellie