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Diane Dimond: An Intriguing Crime-Fighting Plan to Create Urban Peace

Ten minutes on the phone with David Lockett and you realize this is a man of high integrity, compassion and vision. After a lengthy conversation with him, I came away believing if there was ever a man we should follow in the fight against crime, it is David Lockett.

Lockett’s business background is in the trucking industry. He also developed and has run a program for nearly 20 years that embraces society’s toughest, hard-core juvenile criminals and gives them the tools to turn their lives around.

It’s called the PACT LifePlan Coaching Program, and its guiding principle is the idea that if we help young people avoid a lifetime of crime, everybody wins. Spend a little time giving a kid some skills and a plan for his or her future, and the country gets a law-abiding, contributing taxpayer in return. In the long run, it’s a lot cheaper than paying for their trip (or trips) through the U.S. justice system.

Youth courts in and around Lockett’s native Toronto, Ontario, Canada, are so impressed by his track record with these kids they automatically funnel the toughest cases his way, sentencing young offenders to a term in this very unique program.

As the PACT staff explains, their approach isn’t therapy or counseling; it is coaching kids on how to live a meaningful life. There are specially targeted programs for both young males, the category so often at the center of street crime, and for young women, who are so susceptible to early pregnancy.

For the dedicated PACT coaches it can be a constant, almost 24/7 job to keep track of their wards — meetings, classes, outside projects with the kids, late-night phone calls and teary heart-to-heart discussions. The children come from abusive homes or live in foster-care situations. Many have been in gangs, have mental health or substance abuse problems. During the year-and-a half-long process, PACT coaches act like the dutiful parents these children never had.

The metaphor, Lockett told me, is simple: “Imagine a kid who’s fallen into a deep pit. Many would rush in to pull up the kid. At our program, the coach comes to the edge of the pit and asks, ‘Are you ready to figure out where your life should go? What are your goals? How do you plan to achieve them?’” Once the PACT coach gets satisfactory answers, Lockett says, “They go to Home Depot for lumber, nails and a hammer, and toss them down to the kid so they can build a ladder out.”

For those who think the problem of youth crime is too widespread to tackle with a simple program, Lockett says he has proof that it really isn’t. After much research and consultation with several police departments, the PACT program came to realize that a majority of crimes were being committed by a small group of troubled and forgotten teens.

“One youth court officer told me there were 60 kids in his area who were the worst,” Locket told me. “Those 60 kids committed 1,000 crimes.” Those underage lawbreakers became PACT’s target group.

“It dawned on me,” Lockett said in the passionate tone he uses, “to break the cycle ... just help those 60 kids and your crime rate goes down!”

Now for the best part: Guess how much the PACT program's intensive, one-on-one mentoring costs Canadian taxpayers? Nothing, thanks to Lockett’s creative and dogged approach to getting the community involved.

“From the beginning, we decided we would not take government money because it just came with so much B.S. attached,” Lockett said. “It just wasn’t worth it. So I went and gave speeches to 30 Rotary clubs.”

That is where PACT got its seed money back in 1995. And so it remains today. A combination of donations from service clubs, local businesses and corporations pays for everything. Right now, there are 42 youngsters in the program, and the annual operating budget is about $300,000. That’s less than the justice system spends on one teenage repeat offender. So far, 10,000 teens have graduated from the PACT program. The success rate of all those who enter is near 70 percent.

Lockett, who calls himself a “social entrepreneur,” uses tried-and-true business practices to keep his program running in very creative ways. First and foremost, PACT is careful with its money as the staff goes about giving kids hope and teaching them skills that will take them into the future — cooking, gardening, film production and light construction. One Lockett brainchild is a program that teaches kids patching, painting and how to place drywall, all with donated materials from local businesses. PACT then bids — underbids, actually — on local jobs and wins most of them. The money the team earns goes to pay some of the life coaches, salaries of up to $10 an hour for the most experienced teens, and the rest is distributed to the other kids as bonuses.

“Businesses are successful because they make plans, come up with a list of best practices ... and they thrive,” Lockett said. “But we don’t do that with social problems ... why not?”

Good question. Why don’t we come up with concrete plans to creatively break the cycle of poverty and tackle the root issues that lure kids into crime: issues such as feelings of alienation and hopelessness, poor education, drug abuse, gangs and teen pregnancy?

Lockett’s ultimate mission sounds lofty. He wants to “bring about urban peace,” and he wants to convince communities and businesses that giving to his program is not a donation but an investment. As you might suspect, Lockett has his own wish list for the future.

“I want to build a social franchise and teach others how to create urban peace in the world,” he told me. “Think about it. Our model really funds itself, it can be used anywhere and it works.”

Any of you out there want to help create urban peace where you live? David Lockett will be glad to tell you how.

Diane Dimond is the author of Be Careful Who You Love: Inside the Michael Jackson Case. Contact her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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