Think About It First! Cards

Sergeant Kenneth GreenAlthough we’d like to, Strategies for Youth can’t take full credit for our Think About It First! cards, pocket-sized tools that warn about the collateral consequences of arrest and involvement in the juvenile justice system. The original idea belongs to Sergeant Kenneth Green of the MBTA Transit Police in Boston.

Boston

Stationed for five years at Boston’s Ruggles Station, an inner city subway stop walking distance from two college campuses, Sergeant Green has had plenty of interactions with youth. At Ruggles, he encountered youth who were loud, rowdy, and had a penchant for challenging authority, but he always kept these interactions in perspective.

“You’ve got to remember they’re kids,” he said. “As police officers you try not to take it to heart. They’re immature and we got to keep that in mind.”

During his time at Ruggles, Sergeant Green unknowingly developed what would later become the Think About It First! approach.

“It wasn’t rocket science to think about this,” he said. “Why don’t we let them know what happens if you’re placed under arrest? You want to mature, buy a home, have a family, go in the service – an arrest may prevent you from doing that.”

Looking back, Sergeant Green, who has been promoted to Deputy Chief, says this approach was effective with nine out of the ten kids he came into contact with. “They got the message,” he said.

Now in a supervisory role, Deputy Chief Green views the cards as a great tool for officers in the transit system to build positive relationships with youth, and to give kids a second chance. “In law enforcement you’re supposed to be big tough guys, but we have to remember that we were all kids too,” he said.

Minnesota

“Beyond helping kids, Think About It First! cards have also proved to be an asset for police. In Minnesota, the MN Second Chance Coalition in partnership with the St. Paul Police Department began its Think About It First! initiative, funded by the MN Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee, by distributing the cards to law enforcement during roll calls in St. Paul. They were surprised to find many officers previously unaware of the information on the cards.”

“This is important information for judges and law enforcement to consider,” said Sarah Walker of 180 Degrees, a MN Second Chance Coalition program. “Many officers don’t know the technicalities of the juvenile law.” Walker believes the cards help officers better use their discretion when determining whether or not involving a youth in the juvenile justice system is an appropriate response.

The MN Second Chance Coalition and the St. Paul Police Department have already distributed almost 300,000 cards in Minnesota and plan to bring their message to school posters and city bus stops, as well. The International Association of Chiefs of Police will also feature this Think About It First! initiative at its 2012 convention.

Indiana

In Indiana, Think About It First! efforts are also off to a running start. Spearheaded by the Indiana State Bar Association (ISBA), this particular initiative builds off the American Bar Association’s Think Before You Plea project. In addition to the cards, the ISBA is also developing juvenile justice fact sheets for youth and families that deal with important issues like expunging juvenile records, and the law on juvenile sex offenses. This important information is being shared statewide at trainings for law enforcement, educators, and other juvenile justice stakeholders, where use of the cards is being promoted.

“So far, we have presented at and distributed cards to a statewide urban education conference, a crisis intervention training (CIT) for school based law enforcement in Marion County, and a statewide juvenile justice training sponsored by NAMI Indiana,” said JauNae Hanger of Waples & Hanger, and the ISBA. “We have plans to present and distribute cards to other professional associations, including Indiana prosecutors and detention center directors.”

And there are plans for even further expansion Hanger says. Thirteen school resource officers have signed up to distribute the cards and two local judges have asked that the cards be replicated in their counties. The ISBA has made the cards available for their use electronically. They are also exploring opportunities with several child-serving organizations statewide, hoping to bring the Think About It First!initiative to the populations they serve. Learn more about Think About It First Indiana.

SFY Can Make Think About It First! Cards for Your Department

At Strategies for Youth we want everybody to be able to use ourThink About It First! cards, so we customize them to each locality. Juvenile law varies from state to state. And even within one state, juvenile interests can be widely divergent too. “Greater Minnesota youth are interested in a felony charge prohibiting them for getting a gun for hunting, city youth don’t have that concern,” noted Walker.

In addition to their specificity Think About It First! cards fit perfectly in a wallet or purse and are easy for youth and professionals to hold onto and refer to frequently. Strategies for Youth has found that many of the youth to whom the cards have been distributed keep them for a long time. Youth also pass along the information on the cards, increasing awareness of the collateral consequences of arrest and involvement in their juvenile justice system among their peers.

So far, the replication of SFY’sThink About It First! cards has been met with much success and many more calls for replication. Strategies for Youth is hopeful that the use of the cards will continue to grow, and is eager to work with anyone who wants to create their own version of the Think About It First! card. There are plans to increase the cards’ distribution and bring their message to other venues.

Learn more about our current Think About It First! efforts or contact us about creating a card for your community.