ReConnect Inc. proposes youth crime prevention program

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - An Omaha non-profit aimed at helping "at risk youth" says we need to change the way we approach crime prevention.

LaVon Stennis-Williams ReConnect Inc. wants to reform the way we prevent young people from getting involved in a life of crime.

Instead of offering services after they come out of places like the Douglas County Youth Center, they want to get involved before.

"What we need is a comprehensive approach that would place resources in the hands of parents, before their kids get into the system," Stennis-Williams said.

She started "ReConnect Inc." seven years ago, it focuses on helping kids and even some adults after their in trouble.

But she says "it's not working."

Within the last week in the metro, five juveniles were arrested after leading police on a chase in a stolen car and allegedly pointing a gun at an 11-year-old. The week before that, two teens were arrested for their role in a robbery spree.

"A parent needs to be able to call and get help with their kid before they commit that crime," Stennis-Williams said.

OPD has programs, like dusk to dawn or PACE, aimed at doing that.

Lt. Keith Williamson with the gang unit is a father and he know people want their kids to be safe.

"There's tons of resources out there, it's just getting kids to know they're out there," Lt. Williamson said. "Getting the parents to understand that as well too."

But Stennis-Williams believes more can be done to keep the streets safer and make sure not only youths are kept out of jail but the homes they grow up in have what they need to raise constructive members of society.

"We hear from the adults when we go meet with them," Stennis-Williams said. "What happened to their life, how they fell through the cracks. How the support was not there. So that's why I think the investment needs to be made in families to get the kids before they get into the system."

But there is an obstacle standing in their way.

"There's no funding directed to those pre-system involved type of services or to help a family grow their capacity to overcome issues," she explained.

Funding for things like a bus ticket to help a mother get to work, or in extreme cases, help a family move out of a high crime area.

Changes like that would need to come from legislation.

Stennis-Williams is planning an invitation-only meeting with community members on November 11th, they're calling it "code red."

They plan on coming up with a solution to get the focus back on families instead of system reform.