While working at the Magna and Kearns libraries, Trish Hull noted that on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley, they welcome after-school rooms for children.
The Kids Cafe, where teens get a free meal, and creative programs attract those looking for a place to hang out while their parents work. They’re a tremendous service, she said, but library programs can only go so far. She wants more spaces where Magna kids can play basketball, for example, and spend their time and energy.
“We don’t have many services in Magna. We do not have drug treatment clinics. We have a health clinic and it’s not free. We don’t have a boys and girls club or any place for kids to go. We have a county recreation center, but it’s not free,” said Hull, a local councilor and mayor of Magna pro tempore. “We really need a place for our youth to hang out after school.”
That could be the starting point for the growing number of problems facing Magna’s youth. As residents get by in a low-resource environment, juvenile incarcerations have increased since 2020, according to Salt Lake County.
To address this, the Magna United Communities That Care Coalition received a $2 million grant from the Department of Justice for community violence intervention, spread over three years. The exact use of the funds has not yet been determined. But some prevention programs that have worked in the past could be revived.
Hull, who also heads the coalition, said a portion of the grant would go towards expanding Choose Gang Free, a school-based gang prevention and intervention strategy.
“This will give us an opportunity to increase the number of advocates in our schools,” Hull said. “These lawyers are very effective in working with children who either want to get involved in gangs, or are on the periphery of gangs, or are involved in gangs.”
The coalition would also reintroduce juvenile court, a restorative justice system that offers first-time offenders an alternative to juvenile court. The young people are often assigned to do community service and participate in a diversionary activity while a mentor checks on them weekly.
“It’s a program to stop this criminal behavior before it gets too big,” Hull said, “because they know that once they get involved in the juvenile court system, that can increase their risk of committing more crimes.”
She also pointed to parenting programs and peer-to-peer outreach through the Magna United Youth Coalition.
“It really doesn’t feel appropriate to have a bunch of adults telling kids what to do,” she said. “You really have to involve the youth and let the youth speak to you.”
Six years after Magna became a metropolitan community, with its own city government, Magna is one of the few communities in the Granite School District that is still growing, Hull said. But it hasn’t caught up in services and resources compared to more affluent communities.
Keep kids busy
There are different solutions to addressing juvenile detention, said Anthony J. Nocella II, an associate professor in Salt Lake Community College’s Department of Criminal Justice. But at a fundamental level, the solution lies in keeping children occupied.
Offering more community-based programs and building libraries and recreation centers can help — as well as ensuring existing facilities keep their doors open later with more organized activities like sports, hip-hop, poetry slams, literacy, and arts and crafts.
All of these offerings, in addition to counseling, therapy and sex education, can prove vital, said Nocella, who is also director of public relations at Save the Kids, a nonprofit that works to keep young people out of incarceration.
Utah has many outdoor opportunities, but many aren’t easily accessible, Nocella said. One way to reduce community injustice could be to partner with outdoor gear companies and offer free or low-cost gear rentals for non-traditional sports programs like mountain biking and kayaking.
He said providing tennis courts and keeping skate parks open after dark on the west side of the county can keep kids from getting into trouble.
“The Magna community lacks government support and resources,” he said. “And I think the people of Magna are beautiful people, and they wouldn’t be in the same predicament if they were given the same attention that Draper or Sandy or Provo have.”
What is not working
In addition to offering programs that work, Hull said it’s important to identify those that don’t.
“Things like Scared Straight, where kids go to jail to make them never want to be in jail,” she said, “actually had the opposite effect.”
More surveillance and harsher penalties don’t add up statistically, Nocella said. They also have a disproportionate impact on black children and students with disabilities. Instead, there should be more therapists and counselors in schools.
“Students have increases in anxiety, as well as intellectual disabilities and cognitive disabilities,” he said. “So I think all these issues need to be front and center in schools.”
Tackling food insecurity for low-income students and helping parents are also having positive impacts — all with the goal of providing underserved children with more resources and opportunities to transform an already tight-knit community into a healthier one.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Hull said. “We have a lot of kids who attend our events and volunteer and I think they’re growing up in a world that’s diverse and accepting and caring for them and they want to do good.”
Alix Cabrera is a Report for America Corps member and writes for The Salt Lake Tribune on the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. Your donation of our RFA grant helps her write stories like this; Please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking Here.
https://www.sltrib.com/news/2023/01/01/how-an-underserved-utah-town/ What is Magna planning to reduce juvenile sentences?