photo essay

Redeeming Gadsden County: New York Times offers a powerful look at an anti-crime program

Redeeming Gadsden County: New York Times offers a powerful look at an anti-crime program

You know all those quotes about the need to be "in the present"? Well, they're also true for news media. Many stories these days have a thin, flinty feel because they're drawn from documents, websites and other articles.

Not so with the New York Times in its feature "Gadsden Finds God." The 500 words and 13 photos give us a vivid, sensitive look at how a rural Florida county united to help its worst-off people.

Gadsden County, in the Florida panhandle, is portrayed as troubled with overlapping problems of unemployment, under-education and juvenile crime. This despite the fact that Gadsden is just northwest of Tallahassee, the state capital and home of two leading universities -- Florida State and Florida A&M.

The Times found an unusual alliance combating the threefold plague: a judge, a sheriff and the school superintendent. The judge made sure to hear all county juvenile cases herself, emphasizing her local upbringing as a "daughter of the soil." The superintendent founded an alternative school for low-scoring students, with smaller classes and more support.  And the sheriff, Morris A. Young, hired a fulltime chaplain, Jimmy Salters, for the county jail.

Their combined efforts have contributed to some good numbers since Young became sheriff in 2004, says the newspaper: arrest rates falling by 75 percent and graduation rates rising from 40 to 65 percent. And the Times writer captures some of the intense emotions involved.

You don’t get passages like this while sitting at a computer in New York City:

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