OPINION: Education reform can stop rise in local crime


Photo courtesy of Lacie Slezak on Unsplash

When we were younger, fear crept in and out of our minds as we watched horror movies. It hid within the realms of the imaginary monsters living under our beds, and it lurked in the basement when we shut the lights off and ran up the stairs. But for most of us, the safe neighborhoods of West Essex’s sending districts meant we didn’t feel the grip of fear in our day-to-day lives. However, a very real rise in house break-ins and car robberies have consumed the West Essex area in recent years, with a larger spike in the past year or two, sending fear running through the veins of any person who could be the next victim of a crime in their own backyard.

In interviews with The Wessex Wire, authorities and local government representatives said much of the explanation for the rise of crimes like these lies in age; according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the amount of these crimes are committed by juveniles and younger people are up more than 50 percent in the last five years, and especially in the last two after the pandemic. 

“I sit in other towns as well, so it’s different for each town, for this particular court one thing I would notice is that the defendants appear to be younger and younger,” municipal judge Hon. Joseph C. Angelo said. 

 With pent-up anger and frustration, local residents including myself have looked to the local government and authority figures to resolve the situation. With the car jackings, break-ins and robberies, many members of the community feel incredibly unsafe. However, after attempting to point fingers at anyone who hasn’t made these issues go away, I realized that the only way the rise of crimes like this can be solved is by identifying and attacking the root cause.  

Unfortunately, we have turned a blind eye to the education and empowerment of today’s youth. We have neglected government funding to protect our children and COVID especially has taken many minors out of school who have yet to return to a normal education or go on to college. 

 “We deal with a lot of juveniles that tell us that their parents just don’t have money, that they don’t have hot water,” said Dawn Simonetti, deputy chief assistant prosecutor at the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. “And so they just need to risk going to jail for a little bit, possibly, so that they can get this money for themselves and their family.”

Authorities said that high school students and young adults turn to crime as an escape from poorer living conditions, as some do not have the financial means to spare seven hours out of a day to go to school, or even continue to live in abusive home environments. 

“Unfortunately, for DCP&P there is not enough funding,” Simonetti said, referring to the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, the department that protects the welfare of children and families. “So what needs to happen is legislators need to pass and or come up with money that’s better allocated so that these families are given intervention. I think that as a society, people can encourage legislatures to do better as far as having better resources.” 

With no advocacy or urging from both the general public and the government, family intervention services are ignored and with that, nearly everyone else suffers. In an attempt to make up for their lack of education and therefore resources, juveniles often resort to crime. They can receive great deals of money from stealing cars, instantly posting an image with a stolen vehicle allows for them to receive “bids” in which they can earn $10,000 or more. If these teens were not put in a position that caused them to need the money they can receive from stealing a car, perhaps nobody would have to suffer the consequences. 

This background and context for who is engaging in this sort of criminal activity does not excuse the actual crimes that have made many in our community feel unsafe. However, the situation will never be solved unless we address it at the root and create a world in which all are properly supported so that people are not compelled to resort to criminal acts that put everyone in danger.