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Credible messengers legislation will be up for debate during the upcoming General Assembly session

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NPR
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Lawmakers may soon consider legislation aimed at a unique method that will hopefully prevent children from getting caught up in the criminal justice system.

Former felons who have turned their lives around have the ability to serve as role models, especially for kids who are at risk of finding themselves getting caught up in the criminal justice system. The idea is that they become credible messengers, says Rise for Youth executive director Valerie Slater.

"Kids are going to respect them in ways that they may push back against when it's just someone from the school," Slater says. "Just another administrator, just somebody else who doesn't get me, who doesn't know what I'm going through, who doesn't even understand our community or the struggles that community faces."

The General Assembly needs to take action to allow these credible messengers inside public schools, says Uhuru Foundation executive director Robert Gray.

"There are barrier crimes that basically prohibit credible messengers from being able to work inside a school system," Gray explains. "So, the bill would essentially eradicate some of those barrier crimes that prohibit or stop credible messengers from being able to come inside of the school system to work with the youth."

Lawmakers will be returning to Richmond in January for the next General Assembly session, when they may end up taking action to allow some former felons to be part of a credible messenger program and serving as mentors in public schools across Virginia.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.