Author: Matt Debnam
Second Chance Month came to Chatham Youth Development Center in a big way April 25, as the Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention welcomed special guests from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of North Carolina; the Governor’s Office; the Governor’s Crime Commission; Communities in Schools; and Research Triangle Institute.
“As part of OJJDP’s Second Chance Month activities, we came here to visit the youth development center to learn more about programs that have been effective in serving youth coming out of confinement,” said OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan. “We know that effective programming is essential to a young person’s future success.”
Thanks to the hospitality of the Chatham YDC staff, guests enjoyed a day of networking, a student debate, a reentry simulation and a roundtable discussion of the Reentry to Resilience program – an OJJDP-funded collaboration between JJDP, Communities in Schools and RTI, that focuses on helping youth return to the community successfully after spending time in a YDC.
Welcome to McDougaldville
Starting out the day’s events, visitors had the opportunity to observe two of Chatham YDC’s programs in action. The first, a student debate, pitted three teams of youth in an oratorical contest, arguing the pros and cons of Raise the Age.
In point after counterpoint, youth argued their positions with passion, eloquence and authority – often directly citing state and federal research and other definitive sources. U.S. Attorney Sandra Hairston, who served as one of the debate judges, praised the youth for their compelling performance, comparing them favorably to attorneys who have argued in her courtroom.
After a brief intermission, during which guests toured the YDC, they returned to find the facility’s gym transformed into "McDougaldville." For the purposes of the real-world reentry simulation, McDougaldville resembled a small town, complete with an employment office, a bank, a grocery store, a real estate office, a utilities provider, a car dealership and a telecoms provider.
As youth arrived, the simulation started off with a lesson courtesy of State Employees Credit Union employee Cedric Lee. Students had created a budget ahead of time, and after learning how to write a check, use a debit card and fill out a ledger, they were set loose to visit the various stations with the goal of fulfilling their needs while maintaining a healthy budget.
“The programming observed at Chatham on Friday provided the youth with an opportunity to build critical thinking skills, learn how to advocate for themselves in a positive way, and the chance to develop self-confidence in making good life decisions – all things they will face in the future,” said JJDP Director of Reentry Services Nicole Sullivan. “Practicing and utilizing these skills in real time increases the likelihood that they will use these skills when faced with similar situations when they leave the YDC.”
“This visit really highlighted the great work that our facilities do,” added JJDP Grants Manager Brittany Schott. “The kids get so many experiences and skills, and learn a lot from the staff we have there. You could tell that that the Chatham team really engages with the kids… I think it really encompassed how hard Juvenile Justice in North Carolina is working to try and create those great outcomes for kids.”
ReEntry to Resilience
In 2018, RTI utilized OJJDP funding to conduct a baseline study regarding juvenile reentry from YDCs in North Carolina. During the course of this study, they identified a number of barriers to juvenile reentry, including school enrollment.
Following that study, JJDP staff worked with RTI and Communities in Schools to create a program that could target education placement and community reintegration of youth returning home from YDCs. It was through this collaboration, and second chance grant funding from OJJDP, that Reentry to Resilience (R2R), was born.
Currently serving youth in eight counties, R2R takes a comprehensive approach to reentry. From the moment a youth is referred to the program upon commitment, up to 12 months after release from a YDC, youth success coaches from Communities in Schools work directly with JJDP staff, families and the young person to prepare for their return to the community.
From assistance obtaining employment, educational opportunities and vocational training, to securing housing, healthcare and other basic needs – youth success coaches are there every step of the way for these youth, and by all indications – it’s a model that’s working.
“I would love to see every kid who comes through a youth development center have the opportunity to interact with youth success coaches,” Schott said. “I think evaluation of the program has informed our best practices about reentry. I’d really like to see our division focus on how to upscale these practices and the impacts that we’re seeing on these kids’ outcomes.”
To view more photos from the event, visit the DPS Flickr page. To learn more about R2R Program, visit Communities in Schools website and give a listen to this American Institute for Research podcast featuring Schott and Debbie Dawes, RTI's Program Director of Court Systems Research. For a federal perspective on Second Chance month, check out OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan's blog on the topic.