City Council Candidate Chat: John Ribeiro Jr.

This is the 27th in a series of conversations with candidates for Boston City Council. Former probation officer John Ribeiro Jr. of East Boston is running in District 1.

David S. Bernstein: Why are you running for a city council seat?

John Ribiero Jr.: I have been working all my life with youth and families in corrections. I graduated Boston College in psychology, and I went back for planning and development. I started working in Shirley as a staff psychologist at one of the reform schools. These were like throw-away children. I was working in a residence doing therapy, trying to work with families, and I realized that many of the children were actually scapegoated. Violence is a family problem, and it seems the young person gets the blame for it. We never go back to the root causes. I also helped implement the the Chapter 766 model back in 1972, setting up the Office for Children, and also setting up the prototypes for alternate treatment centers, and implementing the special education law. I worked as a consultant for the Boston School Committee, trying to develop vocational programs for children who were a little bit handicapped. At the same time, I was one of the organizers of the first community school in Boston, in Dorchester, the John Marshall School, to incorporate the school program into a community education program, including young children and adults. And I worked in New Hampshire for the federal government, setting up alternate programs, as well as the Family Court program. The Family Court I helped start in 1972 and it’s still going strong. It saves lives. This is a situation where, when a young person gets arrested, the whole family comes in for an evaluation. We try to provide intervention at that level, so the individual doesn’t go on to commit more crimes, and become more violent. We save money on incarceration models, we save money on attorneys, and we make the streets safer and create the possibility of healthier families. That’s one of the things I’d like to get going here in Boston.

Some city councilors have tried to push for more multidisciplinary resources available at the schools, to provide more effective intervention; is that a model you would support?

Absolutely, that’s something I would want to do as well. I worked more recently as a probation officer, and I set up a drug court and a mental health court, to help bring health services into the court—without charge to the Commonwealth, because these people have to do an internship as part of their residency in psychiatry. I sit on several boards for mental health services and drug addiction services. Unfortunately our schools are not functioning as well as they should. As a probation officer, for instance, I would make home visits, and I would see children home alone, who hadn’t gone to school for two weeks at a time. And being abused, or with parents who are abusing each other. I’ve been doing this all my life actually. Before going to probation, I was superintendent at Judge Connelly Youth Center, in Roslindale, during the ’70s, when we had the busing problems. I’ve been doing this for many, many years. I feel that intervention at the local public policy level is very important. We can provide intervention on an individual and family basis, but if we don’t create a safe, peaceful network of education and treatment options for families and children, we are putting on a Band-Aid. I really feel that the system is not working.

You’ve been viewing this problem for a long time; when you look at the types of addiction problems and family problems you see today, particularly in that district, have the nature of the problems changed over the years?

Not really—it’s just become more frequent. Now we’re having children having children. We have to improve parenting responsibility. We have laws, about child abandonment and endangering children and so forth, but I feel that our children are being placed in danger at all levels. So when they get arrested, the gangs become their alternate family-support systems, even though it’s negative. We have to get the families to get involved at an early age, to save money and save lives. When an individual becomes very violent at age 17, it doesn’t start there. It starts at age six and five. We have to address that. And it’s simple, because we have all the services, it’s a question of lining it up correctly. The city council has the option to facilitate this, and be midwife to these services. Education is very important. We’re failing our children there as well. We think that they all have the same goals, but they don’t. Some children go to vocational programs, and later on they can go on to college if they want to. I went to vocational school prior to going to Boston College, and I worked my way through Boston College as a mechanic. We have to give people an option, so they can be employed, and exercise their creativity. We have to get everybody involved. Violence is a home-grown situation, and we all have to create the fertile soil for children to grow.

Aside from children and violence, what are some other high-priority issues for you?

I really believe in the green economy. I feel like business in East Boston, they’ve been trying to give East Boston away for so long, first to MassPort and then to the casino. A casino is not a product we can actually make. It’s a wish, that somebody is going to lose money and somebody else is going to make money. And they bring some side effects, like human trafficking, and prostitution. I was instrumental in stopping trafficking in East Boston before. Also, the problem we have with pollution, in our area particularly. The airport creates so much pollution; the additional pollution will exponentially increase with the casino as well. And then our insurance will go up. And the casino cannibalizes small businesses in the area. It induces people to stay there, instead of spending money in the area. And breaking and entering will increase. People are already trying to buy up places to open up pawn shops; people will break and enter somewhere to get their seed money to make their score. I don’t like casinos, but at least make it a day trip, don’t put it in our back yard.

Am I correct that a couple of your children are actively working against the casino?

Yes. I was one of the people that [protested] at the airport; I would take them with me to some of these actions, these proactive actions that we did. We did some street theater to personify the evils of the expansion, and they were part of that. So I had them involved when they were 10 years old. They still do it. They work on many causes, including what happens in their neighborhood. I don’t tell them what to do.

But you think they picked up that activism from you?

They’ve taken it from the environment, wherever the individuals live, the positive support system, but they own it. It’s not mine, their causes are theirs. I share with them, they share with me, we go back and forth.

How big is your family, and are they all in this area?

I have a daughter in New Hampshire. When she was here, she worked with youth programs. I have another daughter who lives in the area, she’s mainly involved in sports and youth programs, at the YMCA and so forth—she was a complete jock when she was in high school. My son is organizing a state-wide movement against the casinos and my daughter is organizing a city-wide movement against the casino. They’re also involved in medical issues, raising money for cancer and heart problems and so forth. Giving back is part of our life; it’s how we live.


Read more Boston City Council Candidate Chats. This interview has been edited for length.