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Boston judge works hard to keep kids from going bad

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Too many young people, 10 to 14, ''hang out'' and ''walk the streets'' during school hours, and Harry J. Elam is disturbed -- so upset that he is knocking on doors, dialing telephone numbers, and buttonholing people.

''Urban adolescents need help, and it takes adults to help them,'' says Mr. Elam, chief justice of the Boston Municipal Court. ''And I am afraid that if I do nothing, and others do nothing, they shall one day appear before me in court. And my job may be to send them to jail.''

Judge Elam says that he already sees ''too many juveniles'' as defendants in court or as ''deadbeats'' on the street ''with nowhere to go.''

The Judge has devised a program -- he calls it Project Commitment -- that he hopes will help junior high school youths turn away from the streets toward taking a shot at a career. He unveiled his plan to the Boston public Feb. 10 at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library.

Project Commitment has been in operation in six public junior high schools since September. Judge Elam, assisted by Ruth Batson, on loan from Boston University where she is a faculty member, has recruited five other judges to work with him. Each judge is working with a school and its principal.

All six are inner-city schools with reputations for problem students. Although young, many of the students already have been in trouble for attacking classmates and even teachers. Absenteeism is high.

''Too many evil influences -- drugs, prostitution, crime -- are seeking to entice these young people away from school,'' Judge Elam says. ''And these schools, hampered by budget cuts, offer little that appeals to these students. Our goal is to offer them alternative role models to copy.''

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