Darius Pattillo wants to help Henry County students in the earliest teen years learn the skills that will keep them on the right path at a time when criminal behavior begins to look cool or like an acceptable risk to some.
Pattillo, the district attorney for the south metro community, said his office is launching Power Moves, a 12-week effort aimed at Henry County 7th- and 8th-grade students who are at that critical juncture right before high school when they become susceptible to making poor decisions.
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“What we know from empirical evidence is that young people who don’t go to school, who drop out of school or who find themselves in disciplinary situations at school, a lot of times find themselves in the criminal justice system, Pattillo said.
“I believe that addressing young people early and talking to them about the pitfalls of criminal activity, gang violence and drugs goes a long way to reducing crime if we can keep those kids out of the system,” he said.
The program comes as prosecutors and the law enforcement community across the nation have seen an increase in the number of adolescents committing crimes that in the past were reserved for adults.
“At one time it may have been drug possession or drug usage or just cutting class or being unruly” that got pre-teens in trouble, he said. “Now, we’re seeing more violent crimes committed by juveniles like armed robberies.”
The free program, which is being funded by fees paid to the District Attorney’s Office’s Pretrial Diversion program, will launch at Stockbridge and Henry Middle Schools with 20 students from each, Pattillo said. The two schools were chosen because the office wanted geographic diversity by having one each from the north and south of Henry County.
The schools will decide which students will participate, Pattillo said, and being chosen should not be seen as an indicator that those involved are troubled. Pattillo said though he grew up in a stable two-parent home and received good grades, he was labeled at-risk because of the neighborhood in which his family lived and the negative influences around him.
“Some of those kids may have had disciplinary referrals, but not necessarily all of them,” Pattillo said.
Montez Diamond, a civil mediator and conflict resolution instructor, developed the curriculum, Pattillo said. The District Attorney and Diamond will lead the classes, which will include guest speakers such as attorneys, law enforcement officers and rehabilitated ex-offenders.
“Our curriculum is not the traditional curriculum,” said Latisha Flint, an investigator in the D.A.’s Office and coordinator of its Pretrial Diversion program. “Our curriculum is built to be interactive where we have a lot of activities and group work that the children will do, and they will basically lead the discussion.”
The classes, which start next Monday and will be held during school advisory periods, will be one hour a week and focus on strategic decision-making, conflict resolution, taking pride in the community, character development and how to interact with police. Participants also will discuss methods to avoid crime, drugs and violence.
“The name of the game is to try to intervene with young people before they get to the high school ranks,” Pattillo said. “So when the drug issue comes to their attention or gang opportunities, they will make solid choices not to go that route.”