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Program with college students pitches mentorship program to Virginia Board of Juvenile Justice

Program with college students pitches mentorship program to Virginia Board of Juvenile Justice

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A program run in part by students from George Mason University wants to help young people leaving the juvenile justice system be better prepared for re-entering society and others avoid it altogether.

Youth Outreach Services briefly outlined its 12-week job-readiness mentorship program to the Virginia Board of Juvenile Justice in Richmond this week.

The program matches at-risk youths with college and business mentors to develop entrepreneurship and job skills.

“We want to help bring a solution to how we reduce the recidivism rate,” said Daniel Lavelle, a project manager for Youth Outreach Services and a senior at George Mason.

The organization wants “to intercept the whole transaction of students going from an institution, where they are supposed to be educated, to a system that’s really hard to get out of,” he said.

Lavelle said the idea is to get young people the help they need so they can have a chance to succeed.

Among the services Youth Outreach offers are job training, entrepreneur training, financial management and mentoring.

The college students with Youth Outreach, who major in psychology, criminology, sociology or anthropology, are using the experience as part of a three-year research project dealing with reducing recidivism through rehabilitation and employment.

“YOS seeks to improve the lives of people who are hurting and to bring forth transformational and positive social change, and this study aims to investigate the impact of social entrepreneurship on the problem of recidivism among juvenile offenders,” said Elizabeth Charity, CEO of Youth Corp. Inc., which runs Youth Outreach.

The group’s presentation was abbreviated because Charity and Lavelle attempted to make it during Monday’s public comment period, when speakers are limited to three minutes.

Board members, though, encouraged Youth Outreach Services to meet with staff members and possibly schedule a time for the board to get a more in-depth look at the organization’s proposals.

The need for Youth Outreach Services’ work did pop up shortly after Lavelle and Charity spoke, though.

Eight young people participating in the Community Treatment Model attended the meeting and spoke to the board about their experiences.

The Community Treatment Model is a system the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice has implemented “with the goal of improving services and safety in the facilities and decreasing recidivism after release.”

The program, in place at seven units, focuses on creating “a consistent, rehabilitative community” that lets the staff and the young people work closely every day. It allows for more rigorous rehabilitation and engagement throughout the day, the department says.

The eight young people — the department calls them residents — spoke of how the program is helping them deal with a tough situation and allowing them to get the skills that will help them make better decisions when they’re released.

One young man told the board that there is a need for mentors who they can work with and help them make the transition. Charity told the board her Youth Outreach could help.

There is a strong ongoing push in law enforcement and education, statewide and nationally, to close the “school-to-prison” pipeline and to address the needs of young people coming out of the juvenile justice system.

The problem is especially important in Virginia, reform proponents say, after a much-cited national study issued last year by the Center for Public Integrity showed more students are referred to the police and court systems in Virginia than in any other state.

The Washington-based nonprofit group found that 15.8 of every 1,000 Virginia students were sent to some part of the criminal justice system during the 2011-12 school year. That was 1.2 students more than Delaware, which was second, and 3.5 students more than Florida, which ranked third.

LLLovio@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6348

Twitter: @LouisLLovio

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