GARY | Bernard Carter wants to see kids in the classroom, not his courtroom.
"We want to be out there stopping these young people from making mistakes," the Lake County prosecutor said.
Carter on Tuesday officially launched the Prosecutors as Teachers program, which sends 60 Lake County prosecutors as substitute teachers to area schools as a free service. The pilot project started in April, he said, and was met with enthusiasm by area superintendents and prosecutors alike.
"I told (prosecutors) if you have a trial next week, you still have to work from home, and they all were on board with it," he told the Gary Chamber of Commerce.
Carter said the message of the program -- on T-shirts worn by prosecutors in summer parades -- is "Education is the best crime fighter."
"This program puts those words into action," he said.
Carter said he never met an attorney until he was in college and thinks it's important for young people to see people in varied professions.
"We're going in and just presenting ourselves saying this is who we are," Carter said. "We're not pushing the legal profession, just succeeding."
In speaking about the program and supporting education, Carter offered emotional comments about the death of Jada Justice.
Engelica Castillo, the child's 20-year-old second cousin, was sentenced last week to life without the possibility of parole in the girl's murder. Justice's body was found encased in concrete in a LaPorte County swamp in June 2009.
Castillo and her former boyfriend beat the child, who died at age 2, and let her die of her injuries while they were driving, leaving her body in the car before trying to burn it to conceal her death. The couple later went to buy heroin.
Justice's mother left the child in Castillo's care saying she wanted the cousin to potty-train the toddler.
"Everyone in Jada Justice's life was screwed up," Carter said. "Everyone; there was not one solid individual, and that's why that child's not with us today. If one person stepped up and removed her from that situation, she would not have been taken from us. Not one family member stepped up, and they knew what was going on."
Carter said in his line of work he has found that "parents know when their children are in trouble."
He said his prosecutors want to meet kids before their lives get out of hand to help stop them from showing up in his courtroom or the morgue.
"We will come out and talk to any kid who needs some direction," Carter said.