Juvenile offenders to get a second chance

by publicationarchive

A new program will help San Diego kids in trouble get back on their feet.

The CHOICE program opened Thursday, and its staff expects to make a difference in hundreds of young lives.

A project of the June Burnett Institute of the San Diego State University Foundation, the program is designed to monitor juvenile offenders ages 9 to 17 and provide services to keep them from repeating their crimes.

“It’s an intensive supervision program for at-risk kids and kids in trouble,” said Benita Burton, coordinator of CHOICE. “Average programs see kids once a day or one time a week.

“We will see kids three to five times a day, seven days a week.”

SDSU President Stephen Weber, present at the dedication ceremony Thursday, said the program makes him proud to be a part of SDSU and the community.

“This is a wonderful example of what San Diego is capable of doing when we harness our resources,” Weber said. “(We need) to make a difference in the lives of young people, and I’m confident this program can do that.

“This is the sort of role an urban university such as SDSU should be playing.”

Currently serving 33 youths, the program expects to serve approximately 500 juveniles per year and employ 24 youth service workers when it is up-and-running, Burton said.

According to Burton, there are more than 4,000 children on probation in San Diego County. She said they are not receiving proper monitoring and are not being held accountable.

“The only other options are to send them out of state or to a group home, which costs $40,000 per year,” Burton said. “Our program will cost $6,000 a year.”

CHOICE, which is a $10 million, five-year program, is modeled after a similar program operated through the Shriver Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus.

Burton said program organizers wanted to impact how juvenile delinquents are monitored because under current systems, kids are being supervised but not monitored.

“Our primary goal is to assure compliance with the court,” she said.

Under the program, groups of three youth service workers interact with 30 youths each on an intensive daily basis to make sure they go to school, stay sober and that their families move toward self-sufficiency. Kids enroll in the program for six months.

“We try to hire recent college graduates because kids see them as role models and mentors,” Burton said. “This is a great opportunity for recent graduates of SDSU.

“We’re looking to have more student involvement at some point. We’d like to establish a tutoring program at State as a means of keeping students motivated.”

San Diego County Chief Probation Officer Alan Crogan would like youth service workers to concentrate on three key areas with the youths they monitor.

“(There are) three key words: caring, responsible and ethical, that are the direction I want case workers in CHOICE to focus on with the young people in San Diego County,” Crogan said.

Youth service workers in the program hope it is successful.

“I enjoy working with young people,” said Tracy Gillum, a youth service worker and recent SDSU graduate. “I hope the program is a success and spreads through all of California.”

Ricardo Gomez, another youth service worker and SDSU alumnus, said the program is an opportunity to gain experience and help young people.

“I hope (the kids) reach and graduate from college,” said Gomez, who would like to go into youth counseling or probation.

To participate in the program, kids must be referred through probation or the Department of Social Services.

Burton said CHOICE will also help refer families to the right services if they have other needs, such as intensive counseling.

The San Diego CHOICE program is funded by the Weingart Foundation and the San Diego County Office of Juvenile Probation.