Stop exploitation of poor kids

Semantha Melamed's front-page story, "Juvenile Justice - First lockup, then debt" (Nov. 21), was another great Inquirer exposé and service to us all. The practice of collecting "child support" and juvenile court fees from poor families and youth for children being prosecuted and incarcerated in juvenile institutions is shocking and in need of abolition.

It is sadly too reminiscent of the Luzerne County "kids for cash" scandal, and the U.S. Justice Department's Ferguson Report, which documented the exploitation of indigent people caught up in court processes for the financial benefit of the court system.

|Jonathan Stein, Philadelphia, jonathanstein5@gmail.com

The meaning of life

Forgiveness is sweet ("Francis expands rule on abortion," Tuesday), but it is a tired, anthropomorphic argument to speak of "ending an innocent life." Life has been continuous since its origin in the primordial sea. It is consciousness that is of value, and that phenomenon is acquired gradually by each individual. As for an "innocent" life, the word raises the question of "guilt," a concept involving the complex issue of free will and social control that is not easily settled and that is less relevant than "value."

|John Brodsky, M.D., Swarthmore, johnbrodsky7@verizon.net

Get to the root of truancy

In addition to addressing unreasonable or unfairly applied prison sentences and fines for parents or truants age 15 and older, the revised Pennsylvania law focuses on why children miss school ("Mixed grade for truancy overhaul," Nov. 13). Students often miss school for reasons beyond their control. It might be a chronically ill parent or a need to watch younger siblings when a family cannot afford child care. But to effectively handle truancy, the reasons should be identified and addressed. The new law requires this.

Even the earliest years of a child's education are critically important. According to a Joint State Government Commission report on truancy and dropout prevention, missing a significant amount of elementary school has devastating effects lasting into adulthood. Instead of punishment as a first resort, we need schools to attempt to resolve issues before involving the courts.

|Judy Schwank, state senator (D., Berks), Fleetwood, Pa., jschwank@pasenate.com

All children deserve education

The motivational chant that Jasmyn Wright's performs with her third-graders went viral a few weeks ago ("Watch: Philly teacher leads 'Today' show hosts in inspirational chant," Philly.com, Nov. 18). Every morning, Wright poses challenging situations about school and life, and the students passionately shout, "I'm going to push through!"

Teachers are motivators and confidence builders, and for many young children, schools provide a safe and stable environment. Yet, there are 59 million primary school-aged children around the world who are denied access to an education. That number includes refugee children who are prevented from attending school because of violence.

Without an education, children are more likely to be targets for forced labor, trafficking, and child marriage. Research has shown that each additional year of formal schooling for males reduces their risk of becoming involved in conflict by 20 percent.

The bipartisan Education for All Act would provide a solution. This legislation has been passed by the House of Representatives, and with the cosponsorship of Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, it can be pushed through the Senate, so every child can have a teacher like Jasmyn Wright.

|Amy Kazanegras, Tarzana, Calif., amykaza@results.org

Another SEPTA delay

While in Philadelphia for the Flower Show on March 8, my friend and I had our photos taken for the SEPTA Senior Fare Card and were told we would have the card in two to three months. One of us received the card Nov. 18 - more than eight months later - and the card expires "4 years from the date of issuance." The new card should have four years from when it was mailed, not three years and four months, caused by SEPTA's delay.

|Roger Braun, West Chester

Tips to avoid the 'holiday blues'

The holiday season is typically portrayed as a joyful time to celebrate. Yet, the loss of a loved one, end-of-year deadlines, and family conflicts can add stress to the season and prevent people from enjoying the holidays.

For example, not everyone can afford to buy gifts for family and friends, so the focus on shopping can cause serious distress, known as the "holiday blues." Symptoms can include loneliness, isolation, trouble concentrating, frustration, fatigue, and feeling overwhelmed.

The New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies recommends:

Manage realistic expectations and set reasonable goals.

Stick to normal routines, including sleep, exercise, eating, and drinking.

Be aware of your mental health. Uncharacteristic feelings should be taken seriously.

Create enough time for yourself so you can regroup and reflect.

When the holiday blues persist and you need professional treatment, the association encourages you to seek it. For local providers, go to www.njamhaa.org.

|Debra Wentz, president and chief executive officer, NJAMHAA, Mercerville, N.J.

Philly streets must be made safer

Readers should know the full extent of the epidemic of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes ("Pedestrians hit, lives rent asunder," Nov. 17). Anna Gonzalez, 27, and a mother of three, who died after being hit by a pickup truck on Nov. 13, was the 31st pedestrian to die in a traffic crash this year.

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia tracks these tragic deaths on PHLtrafficvictims.org to make the public aware of this public safety problem. Of 63 traffic deaths this year, 52 percent have been pedestrians - the highest percentage killed in Philadelphia, based on PennDot records, since 1985. This is unacceptable.

As part of the city's new Vision Zero Task Force, which is focused on eliminating traffic deaths in Philadelphia by 2030, we will join with city agencies and other nonprofit partners to make Philadelphia's streets safe for pedestrians, bicycle riders, and motorists in all neighborhoods. Crashes that kill and injure vulnerable road users such as Gonzalez and her friend, Catherine Cardoza, are not an inevitable part of city life.

|Sarah Clark Stuart, executive director, Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, sarah@bicyclecoalition.org

A golf tip for Trump

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave President-elect Donald Trump a $3,700, gold, Honma Beres driver. According to the manufacturer, that golf club is designed to minimize the golfer's tendency to slice the ball. In the case of Trump, a right-handed golfer, this club will keep him from going too far right. We can only hope.

|Kenneth R. Garrett, Ambler, kexec90@gmail.com