July 23, 2014
If you’re looking for good news in the area of juvenile justice, look to Middlesex County.
That’s where Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), a national nonprofit, has found a “bright spot” owing to the county’s emphasis on community-based alternatives to incarceration.
As part of a newly released report, Safely Home, YAP found that Middlesex County’s Family Court System leveraged several YAP program offerings to seriously curtail the rates of incarceration and recidivism.
According to Superior Court Judge Deborah Venezia, who recently spoke to the Star-Ledger, the implementation of programs such as Community Re-Integration Services (CRIS) and the Detention Alternatives Program (DAP) – both part of New Jersey’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative – led to a decrease in the number of juveniles admitted to the Middlesex County Youth Detention Center, from 449 in 2012 to just 148 in 2013.
“It’s been a very successful program to lessen the detention population for those juveniles who could and should be monitored in the community,” Venezia told the Star-Ledger. “The program has also been a successful alternative to monitor the juveniles while their case is making its way through the juvenile justice system.”
Specific elements of the programs include:
- Heightened support through therapy
- An emphasis on schooling and tutoring
- The deliberate involvement of family members
- Teaching program participants how to handle difficult situations, including safe resistance to gangs
The results speak for themselves. Approximately 90% of the young people remained arrest-free for the duration of the programs. And among those who were contacted after release, 87% remained arrest-free for at least twelve months.
Although the success of YAP programs in Middlesex County is a positive and very welcome step, serious challenges remain across the state. It is why the Community Foundation’s Leadership Committee deployed a grant to the Post-Disposition Advocacy Project at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, which allowed them to bring on a part-time attorney to advocate for incarcerated youth who faced particularly egregious breakdowns in the juvenile justice system. But this grant only allows the Project’s attorney to serve a limited number of youth.