SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – For the past few years, the County of Santa Clara has been working to establish effective solutions to address an issue vital to community safety and family stability – rehabilitation of youthful offenders. Today, these efforts are paying off. The populating at Juvenile Hall is down – 150 detention beds were eliminated between March 2007 and March 2012. Another 48 beds were eliminated from the Wright Center this year. Now, 79% of the youth in the County’s custody are succeeding in meeting the terms of probation, even a year after exiting the program.
“This work has been a labor of love,” said President George Shirakawa, who chairs the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Justice Committee and the Reentry Network. “The County has exercised bold leadership by investing in a therapeutic approach to rehabilitation and involving community stakeholders in the development of a wide range of support services. And, it’s working!”
Restructuring the Ranch Program
A few years ago, at a time when budgets were strained, the County took a chance and made a $3.2 million investment in its juvenile detention program. The Enhanced Rehabilitation Ranch Program is a model that stresses accountability, rehabilitation and responsibility. The investment included a complete remodel of the juvenile ranch facilities and the addition of therapeutic programs aimed at rehabilitation. The youth live in pods that resemble college dormitories, except for the structured requirement that everything be in its proper place. The staff/youth ratios were reduced to increase one-on-one attention. Employees were retrained to use elements of the landmark Missouri Model, tailored for Santa Clara County youth.
The Missouri Model stresses: Family voice and choice; team based approach; natural supports; collaboration; community-based; cultural competence; individualized; strength based; persistence, and an outcome-based approach to demonstrate that success of youth reentering the community can be improved with the use of the wraparound model of service delivery. Now opportunities are present for learning 24 hours a day, including daily group counseling peer-based sessions that show young people how to think strategically.
“When we looked at the earlier results under the former juvenile detention approach, 47% of our kids violated probation during the program and 42% of our kids were failing one year with exiting the program,” said Probation Chief Sheila Mitchell. “We had to ask ourselves, were the kids failing or was the program failing the kids?”
Recognizing that substance abuse often is a contributing factor, Santa Clara County Probation Department implemented the Seven Challenges Program in collaboration with the Juvenile Court and the Department of Alcohol and Drug Services. The Seven Challenges Program is an evidence-based curriculum endorsed specifically for adolescents by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. It is particularly useful for youth who might not think their substance use is a problem.
The challenges include: (1) talking honestly about themselves and about alcohol and other drugs; (2) looking at what they like about alcohol and other drugs and why they are using them; (3) looking at the impact of drugs and alcohol on their lives; (4) looking at their responsibility and the responsibility of others for their problems; (5) thinking about where they are headed, where they want to go, and what they want to accomplish; (6) making thoughtful decisions about their lives and their use of alcohol and other drugs; and (7) following through on those decisions.
These concepts are woven into counseling to help youth make decisions and follow through on them. Skills training, problem solving, and sometimes family participation are integrated into sessions that address drug problems, co-occurring problems, and life skills deficits. The Seven Challenges reader, a book of experiences told from the perspective of adolescents who have been successful in overcoming problems, is used by clients to generate ideas and inspiration related to their own lives.
Over a hundred representatives of community-based organizations have been trained to implement the program. Parents, teachers, and those who work with juvenile-justice-involved youth were also trained. The goal was to facilitate a seamless transition of substance abuse awareness and services once the youth return to the community.
Prior to this overhaul of the juvenile detention program, like most correctional programs, the focus was on gaining behavioral compliance through sanctions. A key strategy was the development of a customized response grid, with the assistance of the Burns Institute, to provide objective and consistent guidance to probation officers for applying the type and level of appropriate intervention based on the severity of the violation combined with the youth's risk level. Unlike a graduated sanctions matrix, the response grid evaluates a youth's level of need in combination with his/her behavior to determine the type of consequence provided for the youth. If a youth is doing well, he or she is rewarded to maintain the behavior.
Another innovative strategy has been to use alternatives to incarceration. The six- to nine-month Encouraging Diversity Growth Education (EDGE) program was developed by Probation staff in partnership with the Santa Clara County Office of Education.
EDGE serves up to 40 youth at a time who are between the ages of 15-18 with numerous criminogenic factors including gang affiliation, substance abuse and significant histories of delinquent behavior. The program focuses on cognitive restructuring, academic achievement and positive peer support. It also emphasizes pro-social thinking. Finally, electronic monitoring is used where needed to improve accountability. Approximately 170 youth are monitored monthly, 900 youth annually. When combined with the Santa Clara County Probation Response Grid, there has been a 63% reduction in program violations and 50% reduction in new arrests, one year after exiting the program.
Supporting Successful Reentry to the Community
Many youth respond extremely well to the supports in place through the Enhanced Ranch Program; however, a lingering challenge was how to ensure that those lessons learned would result in lasting behavioral changes when the youngsters return the uncertainties and challenges that exist in their community. The youth would be returning to the same environmental influences that existed at the time of incarceration. The County was challenged to find ways to ensure that the returning youth would not continue as offenders, and that they would internalize and continue to use the skills learned.
The Santa Clara County Reentry Network was formed in May 2011, following a yearlong dialogue amongst County leaders and community stakeholders, to develop a countywide system to help youth offenders who have paid their debt to society transition successfully into community life. Chaired by Supervisor Shirakawa, and co-chaired by Sheriff Laurie Smith and longtime community advocate and change agent Cora Tomalinas, the Reentry Network was tasked with formulating a cross-system approach and comprehensive reentry and recidivism reduction strategies, including those needed to prepare the County for the then anticipated State realignment of parolees and low-level youth and adult prisoners.
It is a client-centered model aimed at identifying the needs of inmates in custody to link them with resources available through the County, cities, and community groups prior to release. The goals of the Network are to provide assessment and effective programming in custody and in the community, appropriate resources, and benefits to help those who are released transition to a more stable, self-sufficient and successful lifestyle.
“If youth return to the same behavior that led to their initial arrest, we all pay the price,” said Supervisor Mike Wasserman, Vice Chair of the Public Safety and Justice Committee. “There is a cost to the County for re-arrests and housing offenders, and a cost to future victims as well. So the Enhanced Ranch Program and the Reentry Network not only improve the decision-making skills of juvenile offenders, these programs produce a positive return on investment and that is good for taxpayers as well.”
“Our focus is to keep the community safe,” said Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, co-chair of the Reentry Network. “Being a part of this dialogue with community stakeholders enables us to work in partnership towards that goal.”
“Today, we have a good story to tell! Thanks to the dedication, commitment, and work of so many partners, these young people are learning that they have an integrated support team behind them,” said Tomalinas. “They have a network of concerned community members from the public sector, from community and faith based organizations, and from their own neighborhoods and families, who believe in them and their ability to make positive decisions leading to more fulfilling and productive lives.”
National Recognition and Expansion Funding
The County’s work is being recognized nationally and garnering financial support as well. The County of Santa Clara is a designated Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention “Demonstration Site” for developing improved outcomes for youth of color; and was recently invited to share these strategies at the U.S. Department of Justice National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, in Washington, D.C. Also, last September, the County of Santa Clara Probation Department received a highly competitive “Second Chance” $750,000 grant to support youth reentering the community out of the Enhanced Rehabilitation Ranch program. The funds come from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
The grant makes it possible for a multidisciplinary team to assess the needs of youth exiting the Enhanced Ranch Program, and provide wrap around services, including housing, substance abuse treatment, vocational and educational services, and cognitive behavioral treatment. Clients also have access to mentoring services, and follow up monthly meetings.
The Santa Clara County Probation Department has forged partnerships with faith-based organizations, government and public agencies and the broader community to implement these services for high-risk offenders, ages 14-17 years.
By making the investment in evidence-based correctional programs, revamping the juvenile detention program, adopting a series of support strategies for youth while incarcerated and providing wrap around services once they transition back to their communities, the County’s investment is paying off.
“When we rehabilitate and support ex-offenders, we are preventing future crime and violence,” said Public Defender Mary Greenwood, whose office also works to prevent youngsters from entering the criminal justice system by monitoring truancy. “The Public Defender’s Office is an integral partner in these efforts because the County’s payoff will be safer communities and lower costs over the long term.”
Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Marina Hinestrosa, Office of Public Affairs, (408) 299-5119; Andrea Flores-Shelton Office of Supervisor Shirakawa (408) 299-5020
Posted: June 11, 2012