Today, CDCR Secretary James E. Tilton joined officials from the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ to kick off an innovative program intended to train juvenile offenders to help rebuild the communities from which they came.
Last year CDCR received an AmeriCorps grant for a program called “Restoring Youth and Communities” to enable 34 AmeriCorps members to work with young offenders in California who are either incarcerated or paroled, linking them with mentors and engaging them in meaningful service-learning projects. More than 90 candidates statewide competed for these positions.
DJJ participants will serve full time over an eleven month period as “service-learning coaches,” helping other DJJ youth identify and learn about issues such as drug abuse, youth violence, and education. These coaches will mentor youth working with service projects in DJJ facilities and their communities. These coaches will recruit and connect DJJ youth with adult volunteers and community based organizations and opportunities. AmeriCorps members receive a living allowance; health and child care benefits, and receive an educational award upon completion of training.
“These people have changed their lives and want to give guidance and education to youth currently serving in the correctional system,” Tilton said. “We honored them today for their commitment to public service and focus on the communities they came from. These kinds of community-based partnerships are exactly what the CDCR has been striving to move toward as we focus on rehabilitative services inside institutions and outside for adults and juveniles on parole.”
Bernard Warner, Chief Deputy Secretary of the Division of Juvenile Justice said the process was very competitive and that many successful parolees shared compelling stories of personal growth and change when interviewed.
“The applicants to this program were asked to think seriously about the role they would play in service activities, academic experiences and their own personal talents while participating in the program,” Warner said. “Each and every participant brings a natural strength and sense of conviction and purpose to their role. It truly exceeded all our expectations.”
The DJJ finished an intensive five-day training this week for the first group of AmeriCorps members.
Many of this group are former parolees who discharged from DJJ and are presently working in their home communities to better conditions. Other participants include juveniles and young adults who have been at risk, as well as a select few individuals who are studying juvenile criminal justice at various state universities and colleges. The common thread is that these individuals are interested in exploring careers in juvenile justice while helping DJJ youth in facilities and on parole make positive changes and create pathways for change in the communities they will return to.
“Contrary to what one would be led to believe, there are a lot of young people in DJJ and on parole who do care about problems tearing their communities apart, said Chuck Supple, executive director of the Juvenile Parole Board. “Given the opportunity, it is my belief many are willing to step up. They represent a tremendous resource in common challenges such as how to address youth violence, child abuse, drug abuse, and other ills plaguing their communities. The idea was to try to get them involved, and turn the negative experience into a positive by doing prevention work.”
Last year, when the Corporation for National and Community Service (Corporation) announced the approval of grants, the national organization noted that programs such as the DJJ/AmeriCorps partnership is exactly the kind of skill-building programs they hope to support.
“The programs are tackling some of the most pressing problems in communities across the United States,” said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation, which sponsors AmeriCorps. “We are investing in organizations that have proved their ability to improve lives, and we are also supporting creative programs with strong models that will use AmeriCorps members to bring lasting change.”
AmeriCorps sponsored by the Corporation for National and Community Service and administered by CaliforniaVolunteers, approved a $532,965 annual grant (maximum three years.) This enables 34 AmeriCorps members to work with young offenders in California who are either incarcerated or paroled, linking them with mentors and engaging them in meaningful service-learning projects. CDCR has matched that amount by $695,500 per year. Each year 34 new participants will be chosen. Year to year funding is predicated on performance measures.