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Rodney Mitchell, a gang outreach officer for Marie Detty Youth and Family Services Center, addresses a group of about 100 middleschool students Friday at Cameron University’s CETES Center during the third annual Youth Challenges event. Mitchell reminded the young people that bullying is simply another form of coercion to achieve a desired effect. Mitchell, along with a handful of other speakers, came together in order to help prevent at-risk youth from coming in contact with the DoC system.

Middle school students get warned of risky behavior

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of parents incarcerated in the nation's prisons grew by nearly 80 percent between 1991 and 2007, leaving nearly 2 million minor children without one or both parents  and the number is growing.

More than a half-dozen professionals took time from their schedules Friday morning to try to ensure nearly 100 middle school students who may be at risk of contacting the system don't wind up with an "F" on their criminal records or their report cards. 

Shiela Anita Alford, a Department of Corrections transition and reintegration coordinator at Southwest District Community Corrections, said at a conference earlier this year that once a person comes in contact with the corrections system, the task of getting out of the cycle becomes increasingly difficult. Three years ago, through her work with various corrections agencies, Alford said, she kept noticing members of the same family continually winding up behind bars and wondered what could be done to stop the generational trend. 

Youth Challenges, designed to be a stern yet sensitive reminder of the consequences of risky behavior like bullying, drug and alcohol abuse and Internet activities, was born. With the help of several community partners, including Mayor Fred Fitch, Lawton Public Schools and Delta Sigma Theta, the third annual conference on Friday brought together speakers from the Wichita Mountains Prevention Network, Marie Detty Youth and Family Services and the Lawton Police Department, and an inmate also spoke.

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