Juvenile Facilities Offer Vocational Programs to Engage Youths, Reduce Repeat Offenses and Offer Opportunity
Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice Youth Preparatory Academy Partnering State Technical Schools on Vocational Training Academy
By Karen Sicner, AIA
Four years after a sweeping overhaul of Georgia's criminal justice system which included extensive reforms in juvenile justice, we are seeing more momentum towards achieving one of that initiative's goals to reduce recidivism among youth offenders, including vocational training and community partnerships offering training and skills to prepare them for life outside the criminal justice system.
Design of youth detention facilities is also reflecting these changes in order to accommodate vocational programs for youths to help them successfully transition from detention into their communities.
Georgia House Bill 242 on criminal justice reform was passed unanimously in the state legislature and enacted in 2013. The measure included a number of recommendations regarding the juvenile justice system from the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians.
In signing the law, Gov. Nathan Deal, who previously served as a juvenile court judge, said he was often frustrated by the lack of options he had when sentencing young people. The new law would give judges more flexibility in sentencing, Deal said, adding it would offer more options for youths to receive counseling or participate in programs that would keep them out of detention facilities in the future.
Recommendations on reducing recidivism
Recommendations and priorities set out by the Special Council included focusing on out-of-home facilities for higher level offenders; reducing recidivism and improving government performance. In regard to reducing recidivism, the Special Council pointed out recent research has identified a number of programs and practices that have led to a reduction in recidivism, and supported focusing resources on those types of programs that have proven to be effective.
Despite an appropriation of more than $300 million to the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) in 2013, with the majority of funds going to out-of-home facilities, results for recidivism remained unacceptably high and many parts of the state are still without programs for youth offenders.
Effectiveness of vocational training
The challenge has been to provide more community-based options, particularly for youth being adjudicated for low level offenses and those assessed as low risks to reoffend. The particular need for these types of programs is in less populated areas, where fewer community-based options exist.
The lack of access to proven programs; including job training and education, has been cited as a contributing factor in youth criminal activity and commitment of low-risk youths to state facilities.
According to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, in FY 2014 the state approved $5.6 million for 29 local grants to create or expand community-based juvenile programs in 29 counties where almost 70 percent of the juvenile at-risk population resides.
Vocational training programs for youths in the juvenile justice system are oriented to help participants to learn skills that will help them find and maintain gainful employment and provide them with opportunities to dissuade them from reoffending.
Vocational programs in action: Programs on the rise in rural Georgia
The Georgia DJJ Preparatory Academy offers a number of vocational courses through the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) program. DJJ has already contracted with several state technical colleges to offer these courses, which include auto service, computer information systems, construction, collision repair, cosmetology and horticulture. The program allows students to earn technical certificate credits.
One of the most formidable challenges, however, is how to implement a joint vocational program for pre-adjudicated youths, many of whom may only be at the facility for a short time, depending on their offense and how long it takes to get a ruling and be placed elsewhere. This is precisely the kind of crack in a system where youths with minor offenses could potentially fall through. This is why DJJ and local technical schools are implementing joint programs, including on-line training, and introductory classes that get youths started with basic topics and computer/technical processes, so that they can continue the course at a technical college once released.
The challenge is to focus on what types of programs can be instituted using a short term program, which can then transition to full vocational programs. DJJ, in partnership with the Technical Schools, is also looking at which programs have a higher success rate in terms of completion, higher pay rates and availability of jobs.
Georgia DJJ facilities currently have a little over 1,200 youths in confinement and around 10,000 under supervision. Ages range from 13 to 21. There are currently 14 different vocational programs are offered statewide in the juvenile justice facilities, ranging from certified construction work to cosmetology programs at girls facilities. Dr. Audrey Armistad, EDD, is Associate School Superintendent with Georgia Preparatory Academy and DJJ schools, and manages day-to-day operations of the 26 facility schools and three educational transition centers throughout the state of Georgia.
"We partner with local technical schools near the facilities where the vocational programs are offered," she said. "The partnership includes contracting with the technical college to send instructors to our facilities, so the kids are actually getting vocational training from instructors from the technical schools."
When youths leave the facility they can either receive a technical college certificate or they can be ready to enroll in a technical program when they return to their regular school district and finish up their degree, she added.
"The kids are able to get program ready while they're in the facility as they take all the assessments they need to enroll in the technical colleges," Dr. Armistad said. "At DJJ we fully assess the kids on the front end so they can tell us which vocational program they want to be in, so we have buy-in from the kid for the vocational program and we start to work with them so they know how they can get that certificate when they leave our system."
The facilities include Regional Youth Detention Centers (RYDC), which are for youths who have not yet had cases adjudicated by the court, and Youth Detention Centers (YDC), for youths who have received sentencing.
The library at Central RYDC
Dr. Armistad said the Terrell County Regional Youth Detention Center, located in Dawson, Georgia, about 24 miles from Albany, and scheduled to open in October 2016, is uniquely designed so that it can be switched from a YDC to an RYDC at any time based on need. DJJ will sign an MOU with Albany Technical College later this month to assist with vocational education at the Terrell facility.
"With the juvenile justice reform, we've seen a lot more cases where kids are not getting locked up for minor things," she said. "They're going back to their community and if they can receive the treatment they need in the community they are getting it there."
"So what we are offering at Terrell (County RYDC) for the first time with vocational programs is we're going to offer a live instructor for courses for computer applications classes, but also offer portions of the class with computerized systems that we're going to use for kids to be able to get an MOS (Microsoft Office Systems) certificate.
"The reason we're doing that is to get that short term kid who's coming in into Terrell, maybe about 60 days and they start that online program with us and they can finish it up when they get home," she said.
That's where this online program makes sense because if they don't ever get to the YDC they don't get trained and they keep coming back to detention. Dr. Armistad said she expects this model to be one of the trends DJJ will continue to follow in the design of the facilities and for instruction. She sees the program not only for learning computer applications, but also including a number of other programs recommended by technical colleges that youths can start in the YDC and finish when they leave.
Another promising vocational program being implemented at the Terrell County facility is in welding. A computer-based introductory class would give youths a start in a job that generally has a higher rate of pay and in fairly high demand. After taking the introductory class, youths could pick up the hands-on or apprenticeship portions and receive certification later at a technical college.
Design of juvenile detention facilities
Introduction of new vocational programs has had an effect on how juvenile detention facilities are being designed, specifically in including the latest technology as well making classrooms look more like a typical school facility.
The dayroom at Terrell RYDC is designed with wireless access.
"If you look at the design, we are heading in the right direction," Dr. Armistad said. "Even though those schools are in the middle of detention centers, we're really trying to take a long look and make sure that the schools look like schools and not detention centers. The kids sometimes have the mentality that this is "jail school" so we want to change that culture and change that thought pattern, so when you walk in there it looks like the school you left, or better than the school you left."
Three newly renovated facilities are being designed so that youths can receive hands-on training with the most current technology, including smart boards, mobile devices for homework, and movable furniture for break-out sessions and group study.
Transitioning out of juvenile detention
The Eastman YDC in Dodge County is an existing facility where new programs are being added. Currently there are six vocational programs on campus, with another four being added soon. The facility will be specifically used for youths 16 and older. Around 70 youths will be moved to the campus initially, and they will have even deeper opportunities to engage in vocational programs and potentially leave with skills and experience in multiple types of trades.
The new building at the Eastman facility will offer vocational programs in culinary arts and landscaping design and horticulture. They will also receive training that will help them more successfully reenter their communities and be productive. Emphasis is not only being placed on the vocational piece, but also reentry to help build a plan with youths so that when they leave the Eastman facility they leave with jobs or placement at technical schools.
The horticultural courtyard at Central RYDC
Dr. Armistad said research shows that if a youth is put on the right track within 30 days of leaving the facility and is reentered back into their community with usable skills, there is a much higher probability they will not be coming back.
"We've got to have plans of action to make sure that kids have the tools they need, and I hope that Terrell will help us to be able to help with that so they don't keep coming in and out of detention centers," she said.
It is also important for the local communities to know that while at juvenile facilities, youths are being given skills and training they need so they are seen as being employable and productive citizens in their communities.
"What we want to be able to do is to put tools in their toolbox so they are not coming back to the Department of Juvenile Justice," Dr. Armistad said. "Our whole goal is to reduce recidivism and reduce the revolving door of kids coming in and out of detention."
Karen Sicner, AIA, is a Senior Project Manager for Wakefield Beasley & Associate's Justice Studio. She has over 30 years of experience in practicing architecture on a wide variety of building types, with 29 years specializing in Justice Design. Karen served on the American Institute of Architects, Architects for Justice National Jury in Toronto. Ms. Sicner has been responsible for designing or managing over $500 million in justice related construction and has been working with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice for over 15 years.
(Return to the cover of the 2016 AAJ Journal Q2 issue)