Imagine a world where nonviolent offenses result in counseling and education rather than incarceration. Instead of learning how to be better criminals, young offenders learn how to live and thrive and contribute to the world on this side of the razor wire.

That’s what’s happening with a group of teenage boys and girls in Cobb County. They are part of a yearlong youth accountability court called RISING which is designed to “interrupt” them and redirect their path away from potential gang life and toward the life of their dreams.

RISING stands for the six phases of the gang specialty court program: Rebuild, Invest, Support, Integrate, Navigate and Graduate.

These teens have already been charged, convicted and sentenced. When they complete this program successfully their record will be expunged and they will have a clean slate and a second chance.

I am part of a team of 10 professionals including District Attorney Joyette Holmes, Judge Wayne Grannis, Cobb Juvenile Gang Probation Specialist Sharon Mashburn, as well as a therapist, a family counselor, a defense attorney and others who work with these high school kids over the six phases.

They appear before the judge every week, complete assignments and learn the value of healthy accountability. I teach them my Power of Peace Principles and provide the motivation and inspiration they need to persevere and never quit as the program gets more challenging with each phase. We are now beginning phase three of the program, which began in February, and all the kids have been successful so far. We are so proud of them!

Instead of being behind bars, faced with building a reputation based on “being hard,” these kids now have a real shot. Being held accountable while learning the tools they will need to succeed is transforming their lives. Some are feeling support and the spark of being believed in for the first time.

I have been dreaming about and praying for incentive-based rehabilitation for years — for second-chance diversion programs to help offenders with nonviolent drug-related offenses. Reward is much more powerful than punishment, especially with young minds. We can catch them before they make that big mistake that will send them away for a very long time. Once they get behind the wire, they are easy prey for the gangs who want them for life.

There is hope for them now, and as we say: “Hope is the New Dope!”

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Kit Cummings is an author, speaker and consultant based in Marietta.

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