Judge Jimmie Edwards sends kids to school instead of prison

6:51 PM, Nov 22, 2011   |    comments
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By Mike Bush

St. Louis (KSDK) - In the juvenile division of St. Louis Family Court, Judge Jimmie Edwards rules with not with a heavy hand, but a heavy heart.

These are kids that are committing offenses at 11 and 12-years-old," said Judge Edwards.

When you've been a judge for almost two decades, you get a pretty good idea of how these kids end up in his courtroom.

"There are three pathways to criminality," said Judge Edwards. "If there is a lack of adult supervision, too much idle time, and economic constraints."

Judge Jimmie Edwards knows all about those pathways. A product of the failed urban housing project Pruitt-Igoe, he says it was his mother's example that kept him out of trouble.

"She made sure that we understood how important it was to help each other," he said. "And how important it was to help others."

With that example and with hard work, Edwards went from the streets of St. Louis to the halls of St. Louis University School of Law.

"You knew Jimmie was going to be something. You know, gonna be successful," said his longtime friend, Darryl Jones

"He always had this vision," adds another friend, former St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr. "We'd be ready to go out and have some drinks. He'd say I'm not going, I'm going to be a judge."

Seeing children break the law can sometimes break your heart, and Judge Edwards quickly realized that in most cases it didn't make sense to lock them up and throw away the key.

"Why? Because like most states, in fact like all states in America, Missouri has the same rule. Once a child turns a certain age you must return that child back to the community," said Judge Edwards.

That's when Judge Edwards came up with the idea for St. Louis' first of its kind, second chance.

Innovative Concept Academy; a school for at risk kids from 10 to 18-years-old.

"We only take children that have committed type one offenses, the most serious offenses that would require expulsion," explains Judge Edwards.

In partnership with MERS Goodwill, St. Louis Public Schools, and the juvenile court, Judge Edwards opened the Academy inside the shuttered Blewett Middle School in 2009. The way he figured it, the public would be better off, if instead of learning how to load an assault weapon, these kids were learning about math, science and history.

"I believe it is more important to modify children now as opposed to manage their behavior later," he said.

Just a year ago, 17-year-old Deyon Smith spent far less time in school than he did in trouble.

"I got caught, mixed up in some bad stuff. Some marijuana, drugs and stuff like that," said Smith.

But individual attention, enhanced security and the ever present Judge Edwards has helped steer Smith and many of these kids in a new direction.

"He's now gone from the back end of incarceration to the front end of prevention. And that's what this whole school is about," said Bosley.

Smith said he wants to go to college, something he didn't really consider until he came to this school.

As far as the school's future is concerned, bigger and better is not the focus. For Judge Edwards, it's one day and one student at a time.

"I say just simply give me an effort better today than you gave me yesterday and I'll applaud it," he said.

One veteran judge who believes when it comes to setting kids straight, there may be no better teacher than a good example.


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