Holistic reform takes root in Mississippi

For a few years now, Mississippi’s juvenile justice system and the U.S. Department of Justice have been close acquaintances for all the wrong reasons. One of the first encounters came in 2002, when the justice department looked into two of the state’s facilities for holding juvenile offenders—the Columbia Training School and the Oakley Training School—and discovered harmful conditions, such as sanitation issues and a lack of resources for mental health. In the end, the state went on to close Columbia and submit to federal inspections at Oakley. Mississippi didn’t stop there. The state took the investigation as an impetus to take a holistic approach to reforming the rest of its juvenile justice system.

Sparring off the streets

In July, Gabriel Navarro stood inside the ring at the Chicago Youth Boxing Club, absorbing the punches thrown by one of his students. The two sparred, following each other around the ring and fighting to gain the upper hand.Fifteen years ago, Navarro was the one throwing the punches, taking official boxing lessons for the first time at the age of 18. Looking back now, Navarro says boxing was one of the sports that kept him away from the streets—and away from trouble. He hopes that, by putting on the gloves, his students will take the same route he did. On Wednesday nights, the gym even hosts sessions for members of the Latin Kings, keeping them from gangbanging during key nighttime hours.The gym, in the basement of La Villita Community Church in Little Village, serves two purposes: teaching youth how to box while keeping them away from the violence that fills the streets outside.