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Juvenile offender programs prove efficacy in recidivism rate reduction

By Aldrich M. Tan

April 15, 2006

Keneshia Bush said her first time in prison was at age 13. Bush's mother was a drug addict who abandoned Bush when she was six-years-old. Bush said she got addicted to marijuana and ended up in juvenile hall.

Then, Bush was recommended to the Youth Treatment & Education Center, a leadership program that provided schooling and therapy to juvenile offenders. Bush, now 19, said she is a student at the City College of San Francisco.

"YTEC provided a safe place that felt comfortable for me to change my life," Bush said at Monday's Select Committee on Ending Gun and Gang Violence.

Bush is one of many juvenile offenders who benefited from the city's ex-offender programs, said Bill Sieferman, Chief Probation Officer for the Juvenile Probation Office. Programs such as the Youth Treatment & Education Center specialize in empowering juvenile offenders and provide opportunities to turn away from lives of crime.

"We have the opportunity to change how the juvenile justice system works and the system that puts the kids in the position in the first place," said Margot Gibney, administrative director for the Youth Treatment & Education Center.

The Youth Treatment & Education Center is a collaborative project between the city government, the police department and the school district, Gibney said.

The program currently has 55 students and a high success rate, clinical director Ernest Brown said. Post-program recidivism after 6 months is 7 percent and 12.1 percent after 12 months.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano said Bush's anecdote started off the meeting on a positive note.

"The word 'safe' jumped out to me throughout your testimony," Ammiano said. "Nothing can really happen unless a person feels safe."

Keir Davidson, 25, said the Youth Treatment & Education Center provides the needed safe space for juvenile offenders. Davidson facilitated writing workshops for the Youth Treatment & Education Center through the "The Beat Within," a writing and conversation program in juvenile halls throughout the Bay Area and in Virginia and Arizona.

"Seeing success stories like Keneshia's keeps me doing what I'm doing," Davidson said.

Davidson said he is also an ex-offender who benefited from city programs. Raised by divorced parents, Davidson found himself in and out of court many times. Then, Davidson participated in the Log Cabin Ranch, a 12-month residency program for young male juveniles.

"I was able to be away from an environment that tried to suck me back in," Davidson said. "It gave me time to reflect and put my life back together."

Samuel Carr, 30, is another ex-offender who changed his life through various ex-offender programs such as the Log Cabin Ranch and the Omega Boys Club. Carr said he was part of Log Cabin Ranch program for eight months from 1988 to 1989.

"The counselors at the program were able to see the goodness inside me," Carr said.

Carr is completing a masters degree in education at the City College of San Francisco. Carr wants to develop afterschool programs to deter young kids in the community from lives of crime.

"It's not just a job," Carr said. "It's about changing lives."

The Log Cabin Ranch is growing in popularity, Sieferman said. The program currently has 28 people but many more waiting for slots to open up in the program.

"We have doubled our populations because of the elevated confidence level that the courts have in our programs," Sieferman said.

Funding recently allocated by the Board of Supervisors will help the agency expand its services, Sieferman said.

"It's obvious that we have the resources in San Francisco to empower our youth," Supervisor Sophie Maxwell said. "We need to keep these resources going."

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said improving the education system is also important to keep youth out of crime.

"It's great to hear what is happening on this side," Mirkarmi said, "but we also need to hear more from the front end, such as the dislocating of school populations in troubled communities."

The school district added two special-education teachers and a site administrator from the special education department, Brown said.

"We have incredible opportunity to bring stakeholders together in larger way," Gibney said. "We've had our struggles bringing resources to our school but the district has really come forward with resources."

Comer Marshall, board of trustees' member of the First Union Baptist Church, applauds the efforts but said community involvement is important.

"The communities affected need to also become aware and get involved with these programs because we initially need to look at how to prevent these kids from getting into the system in the first place," Marshall said.




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