Are Youth of Color Benefiting From Juvenile Justice Reform?

Within the scope of juvenile justice literature, studies highlight the need for both immediate and long-term reform measures. This is clearly pertinent given the existence of racial disparity in terms of treatment and confinement among youth in the United States. In fact, federal and state-level funding has been provided to address this dilemma during the past 10 to 15 years.

There are a variety of programs and policies that facilitate juvenile justice reform efforts. For instance, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has instituted a number of effective measures designed to reduce the use of detention among youth. One example is the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative, which has demonstrated promising results in a number of states.

Congress is currently reviewing the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017, which passed the House in May and was sent to the Senate. Certain components of this act will address either directly or indirectly the need for and evaluation of juvenile justice reform measures.

North Carolina finally increased the age at which a juvenile may be certified as an adult. Despite this needed change, implementation of this law may not take effect until 2019. After reviewing the 2016 Juvenile Justice Report as provided by the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, I noticed the following reform findings:

Between 2010-16, there was a 56 percent decrease in youth sent to detention centers and 48 percent reduction of youth sent to development centers. A 28 percent reduction in school-based complaints and a 37 percent reduction in gang affiliation among youth were also identified.  

The report said that compared to their counterparts, youth of color are more than 2.5 times more likely to have complaints filed against them and 1.5 times more likely to experience secure detention.

To this end, racial disparity levels (or the ratio of blacks to whites in terms of treatment in the juvenile justice system) have either remained the same or in some cases actually increased. This begs the question: Are juvenile justice reform measures exclusively beneficial for youth who are not considered “youth of color”? If so, this is equivalent to the “whites only” segregation-based ideology of the Jim Crow era.

Ultimately, let’s not assume that progress in relation to juvenile justice reform efforts is applied in an equitable manner. Just as there is a racially disproportionate number of youth confined in the juvenile justice system, there is also a similar relationship with regard to those who avoid such treatment. From this standpoint, the abstract and practical concepts of juvenile justice reform must be re-examined.   

Patrick Webb, Ph.D., is associate professor of criminal justice at St. Augustine’s University. He is the author of numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, editorials and books including “Incapacitating the Innocent: An Examination of Legal and Extralegal Factors associated with the Preadjudicatory Detention of Juveniles.”

Racial Disparities Persist After Years of Juvenile Justice Reform, Models for Change Leaders Say

WASHINGTON — James Bell, founder and president of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, told a gathering of juvenile justice reformers earlier this month that it was time to begin “an uncomfortable” conversation about racial disparities in the youth justice system.

He made the comments to Models for Change stakeholders gathered here to discuss the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s final evaluations of the $121 million juvenile justice reform initiative, which began in 2004. It ended as MacArthur changed its emphasis from reforming youth justice to jail reform.

The daylong meeting centered around the many success Models for Change helped bring about, from reducing incarceration sentences to influencing states to stop shackling youth in courts to raising the age at which teens are treated as adults in court.

[Laurie Garduque video | Accomplishments]

Bobbe Bridge, founder and president of Center for Children & Youth Justice in Washington state, said, “Models for Change was certainly the catalyst in accelerating reform. We have certainly changed the conversation.”

Yet, thanks in part to Models for Change support for data collection, it is apparent that racial disparities in the youth justice system, if anything, have gotten worse, not better.

A MacArthur-commissioned evaluation of Models for Change by Mathematica Policy Research found that disparity “persists, mostly at pre-Models for Change levels.” The Sentencing Project recently reported that in 2015 black male youth were five times more likely to be locked up than white youth.

[Laurie Garduque video | Racial disparities]

Speaking of the reforms, Bell said, “What we now know after 10 years of informed analysis is that all of those things have benefitted white kids and the racial disparities persist.”

In the past, he said, the reformers wanted “to get something rather than nothing” so the discussions that might have made decision-makers uncomfortable didn’t happen. Now, he says, “As we go into 2.0 of reform policy we are going to make people very uncomfortable to examine why the disparities still persist.”

Laurie Garduque, who led the Models for Change initiative at the MacArthur Foundation, said although the disparities rate has not improved, the harm done to youth in the system has been reduced for kids of color. “Fewer of them are being swept up in the system, more of them are being diverted and remain in the community, fewer are incarcerated; the incarceration rate has dropped dramatically, somewhere between 40 and 60 percent depending on the state,” she said.

Laurie Garduque

She added, “You are dealing with a host of economic, structural and political issues … you can’t expect the justice system to overcome. So there has to be an acknowledgement that we can make the system fairer and more just, but the deck is stacked against certain groups in such a way that it is very hard to make it equitable.”

The Mathematica evaluation reports that in states where Models for Change concentrated its effort:

  • “Significant paradigm shifts not only continued during Models for Change, they were propelled by it ...
  • “State and local stakeholders became more aware of the harms of detaining youth, particularly low risk youth, in out-of-home placements.
  • “The poor conditions that characterized confinement drew attention and litigation.
  • “Evidence mounted about the ill effects of formal involvement in the justice system.
  • “As these perspectives took shape, so did intentions to divert youth from pretrial detention and secure confinement and from the justice system entirely.
  • “As interest in diversion and serving youth in the community grew, evidence-based programs emerged as desirable alternatives to secure confinement and formal processing.“

Models for Change was not the only group influencing change. The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) is active in seeking community-based alternatives to youthful incarceration.

Donald K. Ross of Malkin & Ross said his public policy firm, which worked for Models for Change, hired 56 different lobbying firms to work with states to help bring about reforms. For example, at the beginning of Models for Change in 2004 only 10 states forbade shackling of youth in courtrooms. Today there are 31 such states.

[Laurie Garduque video | Changes]

Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, said that when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that kids are different, it gave everyone the freedom to use the youth developmental language. Yet, “what we haven’t eliminated is a persistently punitive response to offending in this country that still infiltrates and drives our criminal justice system.”

[Laurie Garduque video | Language]

Garduque said the research the MacArthur Foundation helped underwrite established the legally relevant ways that kids are different from adults, which was made concrete by Supreme Court decisions. Now there is a reluctance to think of young people as the worst thing they have done and focus instead on the individual young person.

Marsha Levick

The field was forced to ask, she said, “How can we hold young people accountable for their transgressions in ways that recognize that they are not adults and doesn’t jeopardize their future life chances and gives them the skills and competencies to become successful adults?”

[Laurie Garduque video | Future]

What’s most gratifying for her is that “Those principles have been adopted and now seem to be secure and are the basis for another generation of law and policy reform where we are rolling back those harsh and punitive sanctions.”     

Leonard Witt is executive director of the Center for Sustainable Journalism, the publisher of the JJIE. The JJIE was a MacArthur Foundation Models for Change grantee.  

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Juvenile Probation’s Day in the Sun Rebuts the Stereotypes

In these challenging economic times when the value of every governmental entity and its budgetary support is under serious consideration, the efficacy of the services provided by juvenile probation departments is included in that scope of examination. We must recognize that statistics alone cannot adequately portray the positive impact effective probation officers can have upon reforming delinquent behaviors. It is through the positive interactions probation officers establish with juvenile probationers that the greatest pathway to comprehensive reform is forged.

The following story was written several years ago. It is only one of thousands more that need to be told to properly “season” those spreadsheet and balance sheet portrayals of juvenile probation departments’ value to the juvenile justice system.

Probation is a derivative of the Latin word “probare” meaning “to prove.” It is defined today in its simplest form as personal freedom based upon the promise of reform. Juveniles granted probation by a juvenile court judge for having committed delinquent acts are assigned a probation officer to help them keep their promise. That probation officer is responsible for ensuring the public’s safety in the short term through the close monitoring of the youth’s whereabouts and activities and for ensuring the public’s safety in the long term by engaging the youth with programs designed to elevate social competencies leading to productive lifestyles.

Often maligned as an ineffective remedy with undetectable success, stories evidencing the prudent use of this sentencing option are seldom told. Instead the public’s default opinion of probation is formed by mirages of lightly slapped wrists and unchecked behaviors. As a rebuttal to this outdated misconception, I offer an eyewitness account of a past event organized by the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department that helped a group of 60-plus juvenile probationers fulfill their promise of reform.

At a time when all too many broken promises are revealed daily through the subsequent crimes committed by recidivists, the public’s attention is easily diverted away from those youth who are sincere in their resolve and efforts to maintain good faith. On a Wednesday one August, the eyes of the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department were fixed upon a group of its model probationers in an unprecedented way that celebrated the youths’ completion of the Mayor’s Safe Summer ’06 Program and affirmed their steady course toward productive citizenship.

Anchored by the gracious generosity of the Zellerbach Family Foundation, the Deputy Probation Officers Association, City Youth Now and Muni, a core group of juvenile probation officers strategically planned and organized a day trip for probation youth that involved a chartered boat ride and lunch at the San Francisco Bay.

Its sole purpose was to celebrate the youths’ success in satisfying their conditions of probation and for completing the summer youth employment program, designed by the Mayor’s Office and supported by the Board of Supervisors, the Department of Children, Youth and their Families, the Recreation and Park Department and MYEEP. It was clear to the youth that the entire city family of agencies and departments joined together in celebration.

The hidden agenda for the trip, however, was a heavy dose of positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement of the juveniles’ behavioral adjustment. Positive reinforcement of the probation officers’ enriched professional relationships with their probationers.

From the very outset the officers and juveniles had fun both dispensing and consuming the obligatory words of caution and behavioral admonishments that preceded the boarding of the busses and the boat. Each group clearly understood that such warnings were customary for any event of this kind. During the entire cruise they were openly solicitous of each other’s attention. Conversations flowed freely about music, school, sports, clothes and career plans.

Life after probation was a popular theme. The youth seemed relaxed, comforted and secure in this setting, wide open to casual discussion with each other and the adults in their midst, which included roving youth employment recruiters. The probation officers portrayed similar satisfaction with the venue, most comfortable with their new portable roles as cruise directors, program emcees, raffle announcers, deck attendants and pursers.

During the entire flawless event, staged under sunny skies, my eyes were fixed upon the eyes of the youth and their probation officers. Each set reflected the true excitement of a new experience and a new vision. Both groups were noticeably content with the prospect of a temporary escape from neighborhood unrest and office routine. Originally linked by statutory duty and court order, the two groups were now united on a more personal and pro-social plane than ever before. It was evident. They thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

Official certificates of successful achievement that had been carefully designed and prepared by the planning committee were presented to each youth in a sealed manila envelope to ensure the likelihood it would safely reach a place of honor at home. A few lucky winners of gift cards and Giants tickets had those prizes already tucked in their jeans. And finally, an orange rubberized wrist band inscribed with “JPD Safe Summer Event ’06” was given to every tour member as an added souvenir of the day.

The most significant souvenir that everybody walked the plank with upon their return to shore was the shared memory of renewed hope and strengthened commitment. Hope and commitment to satisfying a promise of reform. Hope and commitment to facilitating the promise of reform. These memories would leave indelible impressions.

The event I witnessed on this bright, sunny San Francisco day could have involved any number of well-behaved adolescents ringed by a complementary cohort of attentive mentors. Such is the case for the more traditional groups that visit the Bay and that any number of sponsors would line up to finance such an excursion for based solely on the entertainment value.

But none of these other groups would have benefited as significantly as the two groups I was privileged to accompany that particular day. It was our day. It was a day reserved for our well-behaved probationers and for our attentive juvenile probation officers and staff. It was our unusually bright day in the midst of many dark days of late. It was our day to celebrate the successes attached to fulfilling the promise of reform, the purpose of probation. It truly was our day. It was the SFJPD’s Day in the Sun with our probationers.

Bill Siffermann is a retired chief juvenile probation officer from San Francisco. His career as a juvenile probation officer began in 1970 in Cook County (Chicago), where he spent 34 years in progressively responsible positions overseeing delinquency caseloads, preadjudicatory diversion, intensive supervision programs and, as deputy director, co-led Cook County’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI), which was later selected as one of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s National Model Sites. In 2005 he was selected as San Francisco’s chief juvenile probation officer, where he continued to advance the principles of detention reform. Retiring in 2013, his work in juvenile justice continues as a consultant.

Overcoming the Stereotyping of Parents for the Benefit of All

Parents can present an enigmatic force in juvenile justice--they can play a positive role in the rehabilitative process or be obstructive.

I have found through the years that a vast majority of parents are concerned about their child. Some do well advocating, but most do not know how--or are afraid to speak up. The key to reducing recidivism is providing essential protective buffers to resist those criminogenic factors. Studies show that family function is the greatest protective buffer against delinquency. Parents are the most powerful force for positive change in the life of a youth--or they can be the most destructive.

Inspired by the core strategies of the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initative (JDAI) of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, I developed a family conferencing approach to assess detained youth and find alternatives to detention. This front-end loading model identifies the needs of the youth using the assistance of the parents. The objective is to determine the appropriate services--and the delinquency system may not be the best path. Parents attend these meetings, participate in the decision-making process and are educated about the legal process of the court.

I subsequently created another review committee that targets at-risk youth. Most youth referred are from the school system as an alternative to out-of-school suspension and arrest. Again, parents participate in the assessment and development of a treatment plan for their youth.

As a judge, it is my duty to ensure that the child receives due process. We know the technical facet of due process--the right to notice, opportunity to be heard, and so on. The black letter of the law is simple, but in a juvenile justice context I ask if we can do more to effectuate the spirit of due process?

Due process is the cornerstone of a civilized society. It is about fairness. This includes some touchy-feely stuff like respect, kindness and being inclusive of those significant to the youth -- such as parents. Parents are proper necessary parties to any delinquency proceeding despite concerns conveyed as to the processing implications on the justice system. We sometimes create a paradox in which we recognize the significant importance parents play in the rehabilitative path of the youth, but at the same time may ignore their role in the child's legal proceedings. The question that bothers many is what that "role" should look like?

A parent as a party in their child's delinquency proceeding may have the right to retain counsel for themselves, but not the right to appointed counsel. Legal principles in our Constitution justifiably limit the role a parent can play. A child's right to counsel and the attorney-client privilege combined may require the exclusion of parents from some attorney-child conversations. Notwithstanding these restrictions on parental involvement, parents  do have an interest and should be included in the sharing of information that does not compromise the child's constitutional protections.

I ask if a parental exception should be created for privilege communications because the parent and child are so attached--unless, of course, a conflict exists between the child and parent. There is something unnatural about separating a child from his or her parents when that child is looking to them to help make a decision. Then again, in some cases it may create difficulties for the defenders where parents may influence their child to pursue a path not in their legal interest--but that is the nature of the beast. It’s not as if attorneys don't have experience in dealing with difficult clients who can’t separate the trees from the forest.

It is natural for a parent to want to be included in a process. I often ask stakeholders, "What would you do if the child before you were your own"--or what Bart Lubow of the Annie E. Casey Foundation refers to as the "My Child Test." This is a multi-dynamic test--it may not only affect my decision whether to detain, but engages me to examine the process from a parent's perspective.

Hearing that your child may have committed a crime is a shock for most parents--but seeing their child's empty bed knowing they are in a frightening place without you is traumatic! The "My Child Test" reminds me to do my best to make this horrible experience less traumatic for the parents--speaking a kind word, taking extra time to explain the process, having friendly and responsive staff, and an assigned court officer to follow up with parents and keep them in the loop.

I recently heard parents speak about their experiences with the justice system. They revealed a survey showing that 79 percent of parents were never consulted by a court officer regarding their child and 89 percent were never consulted by a judge. The impression is that parents are not viewed as important in what should be done with their child--some believing the system stakeholders see them as part of the problem.

As in all stereotypes there is some truth--we do encounter more parents than we care to that refuse to participate in needed counseling. The fact remains that the greatest protector against delinquency is family function. It goes without saying that in many instances of delinquency something about family dysfunction contributes to their child's behavior.

The problem with stereotyping is that we allow the "many instances" of family dysfunction to rent space in our heads--we assume most, if not all, parents are the problem and are in denial of their role in the rehabilitative process. Not only do we risk alienating the many parents who want to take an active part in their child's rehabilitation, we risk giving up on the "difficult" parents who can make a change in their thinking by working with them.  When we allow parents to be part of their child's rehabilitative process, they too learn more about themselves and ways to improve their child's behavior.

I have witnessed many difficult parents change their attitude and become the greatest positive force in their child's life. I have learned that most of these difficult parents do care--they simply don’t know how to care. It’s our responsibility to encourage, invite and even nudge or push parents to get involve--and we owe it to them to listen. No one said this work was easy—that’s why we get paid to do it--and do it well!

Bart Lubow on the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI)

Bart Lubow, who has been working for more than 20 years to reduce the number of youth being sent to detention centers, told a gathering of 700 attendees at the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) conference in Houston last week that now, “may prove to be a unique moment in juvenile justice history, a time when, as a nation, we shed some of the system’s worst baggage - including our unnecessary and often inappropriate reliance on secure confinement” of youth.

Center for Sustainable Journalism Executive Director Leonard Witt, publisher of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and Youth Today, caught up with Lubow to get his take on JDAI initiatives that have expanded to 38 states across the country and become the most widely replicated juvenile justice system reform project in the nation.

Learn more about Bart Lubow, Director of Juvenile Justice Strategy for the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

‘Evening Reporting Center’ Keeps Kids Out of Trouble During Peak Crime Hours, Administrators Say

Some Clayton County, Ga., kids charged with non-violent offenses may avoid detention by attending the Evening Reporting Center weekdays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Two years ago Eric Claros, 17, was barreling headfirst on a path of self-destruction.

When he wasn’t skipping school or getting high smoking marijuana, he was breaking into homes with his friends just for the heck of it. He eventually got arrested and spent some days in a local detention center outside of Atlanta. After his release, a probation violation eventually landed him in a program in Clayton County, a suburban community just south of the city.

The Evening Reporting Center (ERC) is a juvenile court run alternative to incarceration program. Kids charged with non-violent offenses avoid detention center time altogether or avoid it temporarily while awaiting trial. As part of the program, buses take them from school and directly to the ERC where they remain from 4 p.m. to about 8 p.m. weekdays. While there they receive academic assistance and life skills training. They also participate in enrichment activities and community service.

“It was either that or get locked up,” recalls Claros. “I knew this was my last chance to get it together.”

Something clicked once he enrolled in the Clayton County court program run in collaboration with the non-profit Hearts To Nourish Hope (HTNH). The ERC is operated out of a former Riverdale church building on Scott Road.

“It really changed my life,” says Claros, of the program that houses up to 10 middle and high school boys at a time from 30 days up to six weeks. The age range is 13-17 years old. “I don’t know what opened my eyes, but I started to realize that what I was doing was not good. If I wasn’t in the program I probably would have did something else to get arrested again.”

ERC administrator Deborah Anglin says Claros’s prediction aligns perfectly with national research on juvenile crime and the reasons Clayton County Judge Steve Teske expressed to her for wanting to launch the program in 2005.

“We accept them wherever they are; everybody comes in on the same level," contends ERC chief Deborah Anglin.

“Statistics show that the after school and evening hours are when youth are at the highest risk for committing crimes,” says Anglin, HTNH CEO and co-founder. “That’s because they’re often not supervised during those times. Our first goal is keeping the community safe.”

Anglin, a self-described supporter of community-based prevention and alternatives to incarceration programs for at-risk young people, emphasizes that the program is also highly beneficial to its participants and their families.

“It’s safer to keep a [low-risk] kid out of detention centers,” she says. “The chances of them getting into more trouble after serving in a detention center are astronomical.”

Anglin says the ERC takes a holistic approach aiming to not only to correct the child’s behavior, but also addressing other challenges the child is facing overall.

“We teach them life skills, study skills and provide group drug counseling,” she says. “We also provide referrals for mental health and substance abuse treatment. We’re kind of like our own system of care. Our goal is to make sure that we don’t let them slip through. Our goal is to wrap our arms around them with our services.”

Anglin says ERC youth are also connected to other programs at HTNH, including employment throughout the year. There’s special emphasis on summer work experience or internship programs, she notes. HTNH also provides community-based prevention, intervention and alternatives to incarceration programs for other at-risk young people in Clayton, Fayette and Henry counties in Georgia.

Clayton County, Ga.'s ERC program
Marquan Green and his fellow ERC participants receive academic assistance and life skills training after school.

Judge Teske says there are also other benefits.

“We have many kids caught up in the gang banging scene and no adult supervision after school; the ERC takes the kids away from their gang associates and off the streets and replaces it with pro-social activities,” he says. “We have a good alternative to detention. Instead of sitting in an RYDC [Regional Youth Detention Center] they must go to school and be transported to the ERC to do more work. We have had some kids prefer to go to jail than be made to perform at the ERC.”

Data collected by the program shows it’s an overwhelming success. At times up to 95 percent of children don’t reoffend while in the program, according to Anglin.

“We serve about 60 kids a year,” she says. “We have not tracked all of them, but out of the students we have tracked six months after the program the non-recidivism rate is 93 percent. This program is based on research and best practices recognized by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.”

Judge Teske says he decided to launch the Clayton County ERC after the Casey Foundation sponsored his trip to the first one in the nation.

“The Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (JDAI) inspired me,” recalls Judge Teske. “They sent me to Chicago who first developed the ERC concept. They are a JDAI model court. They needed the after school programs to keep their higher risk kids from getting involved in the gang scene. It also served as an alternative to detention pending a kids hearings.”

Along with Clayton, Rockdale County, a community about twenty-four miles east of Atlanta, also operates an ERC in Georgia.

“We hope to get more by building other JDAI sites,” he says. “The Governor’s Office for Children and Families (GOFC) has approved funding to identify a couple more counties as JDAI sites. That work is in progress.”

ERC supporters say the program is especially successful in communities where there’s a solid commitment to juvenile crime prevention and rehabilitation.

“It helps so much that we have Judge Teske here; he understands prevention so much,” says Anglin. “In many other juvenile court systems so much time is spent trying to convince the judge that the ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure approach works. You’re not going to solve anything with these kids by just locking them.”

Claros agrees. He now maintains a steady job fixing car windshields at a nearby Clayton County shop. Later this month, he plans to enroll in the Youth Challenge Military School in Augusta in order to get a heavy dose of discipline while he earns his General Equivalency Diploma (GED). From there he hopes to enroll in college and study architecture.

“The ERC changed my life,” he says. “The staff was great. I appreciated the way they connected with me; they never judged me. If it wasn’t for this program I’d probably be locked up right now.”

Anglin says it’s always a pleasure observing the kids evolve from the “I’m-mad-I’m-here stage” upon arrival to, in many cases, eventually bonding with the staff and thriving in the program. Many end up voluntarily remaining after the required time, she says.

“Everything we do is research-based; we operate under the ‘development theory,’” she says. “We accept them wherever they are; everybody comes in on the same level. Everybody gets the same chance. We hold them accountable when they do something wrong, but they get recognition when they do something right. We set boundaries and expectations and expect them to meet them.”

Fifteen-year-old participant Eric Jerral is still early in the process. Less than a week into his obligation, he’s not sold on the program’s merits.

“It’s a waste of time; we gotta be here for four hours,” says Jerral, alternating between shifting in his chair and twisting the mass of short dreadlocks sprouting from his head. “I’d rather be at home.”

Court Liaison Edward McKenzie addresses the class as student Alan Reeves and ERC Coach Angela Green look on.

Even Jerral, an aspiring tattoo artist, agrees that the staff is top-notch.

“They’re cool,” he says. “They respect you as long as you respect them.”

Fellow participant Marquan Green, 16, gives both the staff and the program high marks.’’

“I think it’s been very helpful; they’re teaching me a lot about responsibility, what you need to know to get a job and just how to think about things in a different way,” he says. “They helped me see that before I was getting in to trouble because I was following [people], not leading. Now I’m a leader. Now I see that it’s not about nobody else’s future, it’s about taking responsibility for mine.”

Green says the program’s staff has helped him to learn from the mistakes that brought him there.

“I love all of the staff,” says the aspiring barber. “[Program Director] Mr. Darryll [Starks]; that’s my homey. I think they all really care about us.”

Starks agrees that the program is making a difference.

“We’re able to plant the seeds of positivity into them and give them new tools for their tool belt,” says Starks, who often creates activities for the young men in the program from the workbook he co-authored, 12 Things Every Black Boy Needs To Know. “The court tracks many of them [who enter the program each year] and 90 to 95 percent don’t reoffend. Some even go on to college, so we’re definitely making an impact.”

"That’s my homey," says one ERC participant of Program Director Darryll Starks (above).

Edward McKenzie, who serves as the program’s juvenile court liaison, agrees.

“We expose them to different life skills – from how to write a check and open a bank account to how to fill out a job application,” he says. “Half of them don’t even know how to fill out the application so how can we expect them to find a job? Overall the program is helping them get the information that they need to be able to function as law-abiding citizens.”

Harold Johnson, a single parent from Riverdale, South of Atlanta, says he has noticed a dramatic change since his 17-year-old son, Malcolm, completed the program.

“Once he got in, I saw a 100 percent shift in his attitude; he now knows the consequences when he does something wrong,” says Johnson. “This gives them a good direction. This is a good program that saved my child’s life.”

Care and commitment may be key components of the program’s success, but operating it also takes money. It costs about $60,000 a year to execute the program and to pay its four part-time staff members. In comparison, the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice confirms that it costs $220 a day to house a child in a detention facility; that’s close to $80,000 a year per child.

The ERC has received funding from the Casey Foundation, Clayton County and the GOFC, along with community donations. Anglin says the price tag likely deters many other jurisdictions nationwide from creating such programs. However, she insists that reducing detention center beds saves tax dollars in the long run because it costs considerably more to incarcerate juveniles.

The ERC program, she insists, is an investment in a child’s future.

“We let them know that they may have been dealt a really bad hand – many of our kids have heart-wrenching life stories – but we can’t throw them a pity party,” she says. “All we can do is offer them a chance to change their life around. We let them know that it’s up to them whether or not they’re going to take this opportunity.”

Photography by Clay Duda, JJIE Staff.

Clayton County Evening Reporting Center