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Reduction in recidivism seen

by Andrew Maciejewski - amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

Two juvenile-based programs offered by the Local Anti-Drug Coalition Efforts (LACE) are showing success at holding teens accountable for poor decisions and giving them a second chance to learn from their mistakes.

Teen Court, a peer-led problem solving court created to give teens a chance to keep offenses of juvenile’s records, and Students out of School (SOS), a program that works to address behavior and social skills issues, both received additional funding recently to continue offering juvenile offenders guidance, counseling and incentives to make appropriate decisions after being caught for various offenses.

Teen Court has seen a reduced recidivism rate, the rate of individuals who reoffend after participation, since last year, dropping from two reoffenders last year to none this year.

Youth Services Bureau director Jan Williams said while they are seeing success with their programs, a recurring theme in LACE’s programs is emerging. Williams said while they are dealing with the youth perspective, there is a bigger social and family dynamic they are trying to address.

“What we are still continuing to see with both of these programs is that a higher number of kids are dealing with their parents usage than their own,” Williams said. “They may be involved with marijuana or things like that, but their parents are the ones that are affecting the family dynamics more with either their meth, methadone or whatever else that they’re affecting their family with.”

In the SOS program, 26 percent of the referrals to the program were referred for drug or alcohol abuse, but 100 percent said they are affected by drug or alcohol abuse directly within their immediate family. Around 60 percent of the juveniles in Teen Court are there based on direct substance violations.

In order to bridge the gaps, Williams said they use the programs to provide additional services to families and children to fight the affects of family substance abuse.

“One of our goals is that they are going to increase their knowledge of the harmful effects of substance abuse,” Williams said.

Juveniles in Teen Court are required to take an eight-week Skills to Survive program, and juveniles in SOS focus on academics but also get instruction on behavior modification and social skills to get them to make healthier choices so they’re not acting out.

“It gives the kids the ability to screw up, be held accountable and learn from that,” Williams said.

The Teen Court program is a three-to-four-month-long process where first-time juvenile offenders can have their records expunged following successful completion of the program. The juveniles are brought before a jury of peers, where they are tried and sentenced by them.

They have to admit their guilt in order to be eligible for the program, and most of the time the parents are called to the witness stand during the process.

“If the parents have already provided sanctions and consequences at home, the jury will still give them the consequences but not as tough, but when a parents come in and thinks this is a big joke and they’ve done nothing, the jury gives them max,” Williams said. “It could be anything from community service to restitution up to $300, to essays or verbal or written apologies.”

Williams said the main goal is to hold the juveniles accountable for their actions and provide them with the help they need to get back on track.

“We realize kids are very impulsive and they make poor choices, and so this gives them an option to hold them accountable, learn from their mistake but not be held forever,” Williams said.