Helping youth stay out of prison

FREMONT Troubled youth can become residents in theadult prison system, but a new program is trying
JACOB LAMMERS
May 24, 2010

FREMONT

Troubled youth can become residents in theadult prison system, but a new program is trying to prevent that.

The Sandusky County Juvenile Detention Center implemented the rational behavior training program in September to reach troubled youth who are repeat offenders.

About 20 percent of the detention center’sresidents could enter the adult prison system, said Dale Mitchell, director of the detention center.

“If you can teach the kids now, why wouldn’t you want to do that, then later see them in the adult system?” Mitchell said.

The detention center is only one of three facilities in Ohio that uses rational behavior training, which was paid for via the Reclaim Ohio Fund.

The program is a “complete 180 degrees” from their previous methods, which involved punitive steps such as confining a youth to his room for hours, Mitchell said.

With the new program, the center reinforcespositive behavior and uses a system of rewards to encourage youth to follow the rules.

“It’s easy to focus on the negative,” Mitchell said. “If you focus on the negative, it just gets bigger so we try to catch them doing the good things.”

A 16-year-old resident said the new program gives him time to think about what he did wrong.

“I think it’s great compared to before,” the youth said. “Before when we had lockup, it was a little bit intense.”

Under the new program, the 16-year-old has excelled and is one of the top residents in the facility, Mitchell said.

The 16-year-old could serve up to 90 days at the detention center for a theft charge, and was a previous resident five times before.

“I’m actually getting to the point where I’m tired of what I’m doing. I’m trying to straighten myself out,” said the youth, who hopes to enter the military after graduation.

All of the facility’s 24 residents participate in the program three times a day along with learning regular class curriculum throughout the day.

While it is still too early to see a change, Sandusky County Juvenile/Probate Judge Brad Culbert said he hopes to see a gradual reduction in repeat offenders.

“It’s only a useful formula if they use it,” Culbert said. “And that’s the power of choice.”

Mitchell said he would like to educate parents about the program and eventually bring it to surrounding school districts.

“If you can get the kids to think rationally, you don’t have to see the kids again,” Mitchell said. “In a utopic world, we would want to work ourselves out of a job.”