By Gregg Fishman.
Kids who end up in Juvenile Hall have done something illegal. Why should their stay there be anything other than punishment? As the head of Sonoma County’s Juvenile Hall told me, “The kids in here today are going to get out, and they are going to be your neighbors, and your kid’s classmates.” Punishment is part of it, but so is rehabilitation. That’s why Sonoma County Juvenile Hall has formed a unique partnership with the Boys and Girls Club in their community.
“The Club” took over some space inside Juvenile Hall, installed some games, computers, and lightened up the institutional look with paint, posters and some comfortable furniture. They provide activities, fun, and a safe environment for the kids to play, to learn, and to be just kids for a while, instead of kids in “Juvi.” But the most important thing “the Club” provides is incentive. The Club is the carrot at the end of the stick.
Kids in Juvi want to go to The Club, and they have to earn it. If they follow the rules, they get to go to “The Club” to relax and have a little fun. It’s a privilege they can easily earn or lose depending on how they behave. In earning that privilege, they also learn about respect, for themselves and others. So they get an hour or so to play games, listen to music or just hang out. They also get access to the Boys and Girls Club Counselors, who use the time to build relationships, find out what the kids need to succeed, and try to provide that to them as they make the transition from Juvenile Hall to the outside world.
It’s not easy, and it’s not fool proof. Many of the kids in Juvenile Hall have multiple issues of gang affiliations, poverty, limited job skills. But the partnership between Sonoma County and the Boys and Girls Club is changing lives. The Club gives the kids three things so many of them need: a reason to behave while they are in Juvenile Hall, the skills to survive once they get out, and hope—that there is something better for them.
The Club is a great collaborative partnership. It’s an example of how Counties and local non-profits can work together on common issues. But it is so much more than that too. Each kid they reach now means fewer crimes down the line, fewer victims and fewer months or years spent incarcerated. It’s not easy to rehabilitate some of these kids—but it won’t be any easier when they are 25 or 30, and are about to get out of state prison, instead of Juvenile Hall.