District attorney’s program helps keep at-risk Pickens County students in the classroom and out of the courtroom

CARROLLTON, Ala. (WCBI) – An Alabama district attorney is working across communities to make sure that at-risk students stay in the classrooms and out of his courtrooms.

District Attorney Andy Hamlin of the 24th Judicial Circuit says he is willing to try anything to keep as many children out of the criminal justice system as possible.

“Anytime I see a young person that’s before the court in a case that we’re prosecuting, I can’t help but think, ‘What preventative measures could have been taken,'” he says.

Which is why his office partnered with Volunteers of America Southeast to create the Helping Families Initiative in August of 2021.

“I read numerous studies that have been done, and there’s a direct correlation between truancy and misconduct at school and future acts of criminality and involvement in the court system,” Hamlin says.

It starts by having the schools identify which students have excused absences and which ones do not. Then they reach out to the students’ families to find out why their children are missing class before determining what kind of help they might need.

“A home life that is not conducive to the child doing well at school, maybe because of drugs or alcohol, or other reasons that are outside of the control of the parents,” Hamlin offered as examples.

Hamlin says they have spent the last six months working with the Pickens County School District as well as churches and other agencies to find the best methods for each situation.

“After school programs, access to technology, mental health treatment, drug and alcohol treatment as needed,” Hamlin says. “All of those things are on the table if the need is there.”

He says they’re already seeing the program make a difference.

“There have been instances where there have been mental health issues that have contributed to truancy and we’ve been able to provide or at least put the family in touch with, the people that can provide the services to help them,” Hamlin says. “And that has resulted in the child going back to school and really doing well and flourishing.”

Hamlin says they have begun expanding the program into the Lamar County School District and hopes to move into Fayette County schools in 2023.

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