Wednesday, April 11, 2012

State Juvenile Program Profile

Photo credit Lea Suzuki for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Juvenile realignment is such a thorny issue these days, with so much talk about direct filing concerns and proper institutions. Here's one more thing to consider: Some unique state programs, which are costly, but truly make a difference for juvenile state inmates convicted of serious crimes.

These programs are the focus of a story by Marisa Lagos on yesterday's Chron (only available online as of this afternoon. Lagos visited two of these unique institutions, O.S. Close and N.A. Chaderjan, and brought back stories from the administrators and the wards.

Here's a description of one of these facilities:

The facility is oriented around Chad's sprawling central yard, a huge expanse of grass that includes football and soccer fields and an adjoining basketball court. In the early evenings, before dinner and nighttime treatment sessions, the yard fills with youths in matching outfits, playing sports and participating in other recreational activities. 

But during business hours, vocational programs are under way in the squat buildings that are the hallmark of these correctional facilities.

Inside one of those large rooms, various pieces of computer hardware rest in neat piles as five wards - dressed in polo shirts emblazoned with a "Merit Partners" logo - inspect open hard drives.
The youths are employees of the nonprofit Merit Inc., which was founded 14 years ago with the goal of training incarcerated youths in useful job skills. The Stockton facility is a registered Microsoft refurbisher, and the wards that work here are all trained in rebuilding and repairing dated equipment that is donated by corporations.

Unlike most prison jobs, they are paid well - starting at minimum wage, which is $8 an hour in California, and up to $10 an hour. They work up to 40 hours a week, money that goes toward restitution for victims of violent crimes, room and board at the facility, family support if appropriate, and a savings account in the worker's name that will help them land on their feet when they are released.
The workers also learn "soft skills," such as how to create a resume, apply for a job and dress for and conduct themselves during an interview.

"I've learned a lot - I never thought I'd be learning about fixing computers," said Terrance Turner, a 21-year-old ward who grew up in San Francisco's Potrero Hill neighborhood. "And before I was scared to talk to groups of people. Now I am trying to overcome that."

Would the counties be able to come up with comparable, and less expensive, rehabilitative options for their juvenile population?

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