SiteMap
To search, type one or more key words below.
Search racematters.org Search the web.
 Page Bottom 

Experimental program pairs young offenders with volunteers

Experimental program pairs young offenders with volunteers

By Leon Fooksman
Staff Writer

October 16, 2001

DELRAY BEACH + Starting next month, an experimental program aimed at teenagers and young adults on parole or probation will attempt to do what other reform programs have had trouble doing -- turning problematic criminals into responsible citizens.

This project is different in that it's neighborhood based. The young people in trouble and the people who volunteer to help them will be from the same neighborhood. At least 10 young people will be paired with neighborhood leaders, who will act as volunteer mentors providing help with finding jobs, staying drug-free, getting high school diplomas and, ultimately, staying out of trouble.

The point is to link the offenders with people who know their parents, siblings and friends, and who can be an example of how to succeed in the same place they got in trouble. Organizers hope they will develop meaningful friendships that go beyond the practical to the personal, such as sharing books or just talking. As of now, the youths' best hopes of rehabilitation rests with overburdened parole officers who juggle 50 to 90 cases.

The program is the first major initiative of the Delray Beach Community Justice Planning Center, a federally subsidized agency started last year by the county to help reform the local criminal justice system. It will focus on an area of northwestern Delray Beach bordered by Interstate 95 to the west, Swinton Avenue to the east, Lake Ida Road to the north and Linton Boulevard to the south.

The hope is to save tax dollars that are often wasted on prisons that fail to reform, organizers said. Among the list of projects being considered is requiring nonviolent criminals to do community service, such as cleaning yards or fixing someone's home.

"We're trying to create a process for engaging the whole community," said Diana Cunningham, executive director of the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission, which is overseeing the center.

Participants haven't been selected yet, said Valerie Rolle, an administrator for the Florida Department of Corrections involved with the program. They will likely be ages 17 to 22, all adjudicated for nonviolent crimes such as drug possession and burglary, she said. They won't be required to participate. The program will be broadened as needed, she said.

So far, at least five community leaders have agreed to be trained for the program, said Regenia Scott, executive director of Justice Planning Center. Many are longtime volunteers, active in churches and social services organizations in and around the city.

They are like LaVira Brin, a former bank clerk who has always lived in Delray Beach.

Brin worked with a ministry to rehabilitate inmates at a Broward County women's prison, helping them find jobs, build self-confidence and adjust to life after leaving prison. "I hope to awaken them, give them support and direct them on the right track. Young people can make the right choice."

Once the program starts, the youths and the volunteers will be introduced at informal gatherings then each pair will be asked to meet regularly. Where it goes from there depends on the relationships that are formed.

"It's only going to be as good as long as the mentors and offenders are willing to communicate," Rolle said.

Exactly when other components of the Delray Beach Justice Planning Center will be introduced isn't known yet, Scott said.

The office, which is run on a $300,000 grant from the federal Department of Justice, is collecting crime and other data that will help to tailor the kinds of programs that will be introduced.

Leon Fooksman can be reached at lfooksman@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6647.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

horizontal line
What's New Page to home page e-mail  Page Top