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I am a fan of UTEC, the United Teen Equality Center, in Lowell, Mass., which has many programs for helping acting-out youth choose a better path. A couple aspects of UTEC’s approach strike me as fundamental to its success, which was recognized by the governor in his inaugural address.

For one thing, UTEC gives people a second, third, fourth, fifth … chance. (ROCA in Chelsea is like that, too.) It tries to remove barriers to success but holds that it’s up to the individual to take up opportunities. For another thing, teen decisions are key to the organization’s direction. After all, young people concerned about gang violence were the founders in 1999.

An impressive staff, led by Gregg Croteau, is also dedicated to making change.

One of UTEC’s initiatives, as I learned from a recent presentation at church, is called Teens Leading the Way. The members are actually working to change government policy. Right now they are focused on expungement of early criminal behavior after teens have served their time. They believe underage offenders must deal with the consequences of their actions but be able to start over and not be blocked from education and jobs.

Here’s what the website says, “Expungement essentially erases a criminal record, including police reports and arrest records, as if it never existed. This would be a unique opportunity for young people with criminal records to obtain a clean slate after completion of their sentences. In 2012 a report titled ‘An Exploration of Juvenile Records Maintenance Across America: A Way Forward for the Commonwealth’ looked into the status of juvenile records in Massachusetts and recommended policy changes to offer expungement to juveniles. …

“Teens Leading The Way youth … have coined the motto: “Erase our sentence so we may write a novel,” which highlights their belief that young people should be held accountable for their actions, but additional rehabilitative actions should be taken to remove barriers upon re-entry and to prevent recidivism.”

More here.

Photo: UTEC

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