06/30/13 — Youth Justice program scoring victories

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Youth Justice program scoring victories

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 30, 2013 1:50 AM


Sudie Davis has worked with several agencies that serve young people, so was bolstered to learn recently just how well the state is doing in the field.

"I sat in on a training and the following three stats were given -- North Carolina has been recognized as having one of the four best formats for serving juvenile offenders in the country; N.C. has been serving juveniles through state-funded programs based in their communities for 40 years; and juvenile confinement (youth development centers) has been reduced over the last several years by two-thirds," she said.

The former executive director of Communities in Schools for Wayne County retired in late 2011. But she continues to serve on several boards, including Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, where she serves as chairperson.

The JCPC primarily serves youths ages 7-15, with an occasional 16- and 17-year-old, she said.

Despite the flagging economy in recent years, the agency has survived many of the typical funding obstacles faced by many.

"I really applaud the fact that the state legislators gave this money to a community of local people to determine what programs will best serve our youth, our juveniles," she said. "The state does consider the partnership with every county.

"The purpose is to prevent and reduce juvenile crime. The state invests approximately $23 million to JCPC and Wayne County's share this year is $337,366."

The JCPC is tasked with taking a look at local resources as well as the needs of that particular community, then determining where to divide its funding.

"Usually in February, we put out a list for a proposal, that goes to local non-profits, and they'll submit a grant proposal," she said.

A committee reviews all applications and then recommends how money will be distributed.

The local JCPC currently has 26 members, including representation from law enforcement, social services, the Health Department and Eastpointe, school system, a county commissioner, the district attorney and a district court judge, two teens and seven members at large.

Mrs. Davis has been affiliated with the group in some form or another for more than two decades, she said, starting out when it was operated as "Community-Based Alternatives."

Historically, funding generated from the state is done through a mutual arrangement, even if that isn't always in the form of matching funds. It can also be through volunteer hours or space given -- such as an office or, as in the case of the Teen Court program, a courtroom.

"Technically, I think the state intends this (funding) to be seed money," she said.

There has never been a shortage of needs in the community, Mrs. Davis said, and as such, the list of applicants seeking part of the grant funding continues to be long.

"This year we had requests of close to $830,000 but we only had $337,366," she said.

There are five recipients for the upcoming fiscal year, which runs July 1-June 30, she said.

Structured Day, a program that provides an alternative to out-of-school suspensions for youth and an alternative to juvenile court, uses community and school resources to keep them in school and out of jail.

Transition/Re-entry Family Preservation works with juveniles returning to the community and school from Youth Development Centers and teaches parents effective communication skills and conflict resolution.

C-4 Juvenile Restitution helps juveniles who vandalize property to take responsibility for their actions by completing community service toward making restitution to the victims for damages.

Connect Four Family Strengthening Program works with juveniles and parents, offering classes in such areas as anger management, communication and goal setting.

Teen Court serves first-time offenders, providing a constructive sentence by a jury of their peers while avoiding a criminal record.

The latter is one Mrs. Davis is particularly familiar, since it falls under the jurisdiction of Communities in Schools.

"There's a great effort now in the legislature, where teenagers will be tried as adults to the age of 18," she said. "Teen Court is serving kids who are 16, 17 and 18 because we felt it was important to get them through high school."

In the nearly 15 years of the program, Mrs. Davis says more than 1,000 youth have been served by the Teen Court, with an impressively low recidivism rate.

"It's not 100 percent but when we went back 10 years, 89 percent of our kids had not been back into the court system," she said. "So for the most part, we felt like what we were doing with Teen Court kids was effective in deterring."