Tracy McClard given award by Campaign for Youth Justice and the National Juvenile Justice Network

Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Tracy McClard reacts to the crowd of friends and family that surprised her Monday evening at CrossRoads Church in Jackson. McClard received the National Mother of Distinction Award. (Kit Doyle)

When her 17-year-old son committed suicide in a Missouri prison one year and four months ago, Tracy McClard vowed to help raise awareness of what happens to teens incarcerated as adults.

The Jackson woman received national recognition for her efforts Monday when she was presented with the National Mother of Distinction award by the Campaign for Youth Justice and the National Juvenile Justice Network.

McClard's son Jonathan had just turned 17 when he was sent to the Eastern Missouri Reception and Diagnostic Center after receiving a 30-year-sentence for shooting another teenager at a Jackson car wash.

Since her son's death, Tracy McClard has become a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Youth Justice, an advocacy group for young offenders that supports rehabilitation efforts in youth-only settings instead of incarceration with adults.

"She has become not only a local model for advocacy, but a national model as well," said Eric Solomon, spokesman for Campaign for Youth Justice, about McClard's efforts.

McClard organized a 5K run for the campaign and recently visited Washington, D.C., to meet with politicians about juvenile justice issues, Solomon said.

"She's like a one-man show, she's building from the ground up," Solomon said.

"For someone to have lost their son and to get back on their feet and educate people on what's wrong with the system is remarkable."

McClard, a special-education teacher at Chaffee Junior-Senior High School, was nominated for the award by co-worker Amanda Hunter.

"As a mother of three, I am constantly amazed by Tracy's strength and courage throughout her son's ordeal," Hunter said.

McClard said when she shares her family's story with others, the most common reaction she gets is shock.

"Most people are like me. They don't really think about it until they're involved in it," she said.

McClard said the biggest fallacy about those who push for juvenile justice reform is that they believe juvenile offenders like her son should just receive probation and get to go home.

She understands the need to make juvenile offenders accountable for their crimes, and the need to house them in a secure facility, but not what she called "legalized child abuse" often endured at adult prisons, she said.

At the award presentation, McClard got the opportunity to meet another mother whose son's ordeal inspired her to get involved in campaign for Youth Justice, Grace Bower.

Bower's son was 13 when he was incarcerated in Louisiana for stealing a stereo from a truck.

There, he was beaten and raped, once while two guards took bets on whether he would be able to defeat his attacker, Bower said.

Bower's efforts helped shut down the correctional facility where her son was housed, Solomon said.

McClard said she has been speaking with Bower about the possibility of forming a parents' coalition to raise awareness about reform in the juvenile justice system.

bdicosmo@semissourian.com

388-3635

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