Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Clatsop County In The Forefront Of Youth Offender Rehabilitation

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Some innovative approaches to rehabilitation have put Clatsop County’s Youngs Bay Juvenile Detention Center at the forefront of youth offender programs in Oregon.

The facility’s Youth Care Center provides a 120-day program combining cognitive behavior modification, “mindfulness” and health and wellness in a holistic approach aimed at steering young offenders away from a future in the criminal justice system.

The YCC program is believed to be the only one in the state that’s adopted meditation-based mindfulness practice into its detention system, and other counties and the state are taking notice.

The program takes in youth between ages 15 and 19 who are on parole or probation from state or county juvenile corrections programs, and who are at risk of entering the state detention system. Seriously violent offenders, sex offenders and juveniles with mental illness are not eligible.

On Wednesday the board of commissioners is scheduled to approve a new one-year contract for up to $102,930 with the Oregon Youth Authority to place youth in the YCC program. The contract gives priority to local youth and those from neighboring counties, although juveniles from other counties can be considered for the program.

The county Juvenile Department has also received a $5,000 grant from the Trust for the Meditation Process foundation for staff training and program materials.

Cognitive restructuring is a central part of most juvenile – and adult – rehab programs aimed at breaking cycles of addictive and destructive behavior. But even young offenders have often gone through these programs so many times they know the process by heart, and most YCC participants come to the program because they have failed other corrective programs, according to Janet Evans, Juvenile Department director.

Mindfulness is designed to complement the cognitive treatment programs with exercises designed to build self-awareness and self-control.

“We give kids a grounding in cognitive restructuring, but take it to a deeper level,” Evans said. “You start with an awareness of who you are, in relationship to your community.”

Juvenile counselor Ryan Moore brought his background in contemplative psychotherapy when he helped the Juvenile Department add the mindfulness element to its detention program three years ago. The approach centers on meditation – both in groups and individually – aimed at getting the youth to focus on the present and let go of the stresses from past mistakes or future challenges.

The concentration required to meditate can be a challenge for kids who often come to the program with attention-deficit disorder or other behavioral issues. But the detention setting provides a controlled atmosphere where not only drugs and alcohol but also distractions like phones and Internet are gone. Staff members leading the meditation practice start with 10-minute sessions that are gradually expanded, and youth meditate on their own in their cells.

“You can see the difference the grounding makes – you can see them calm themselves in stressful situations,” Moore said. “It’s a tool they can take with them when they get out.”

The self-control that the mindfulness training brings also reduces problems in the facility; the youth are more respectful to staff and each other, and behavioral issues requiring staff intervention are rare, Moore said.

The department is now adding a third element – wellness – to the YCC program. Youth learn the benefits of not only kicking drugs and alcohol but also good nutrition and exercise.

Evans called her detention center staff “amazing,” noting that they are responsible for both the YCC program participants as well as rest of the detention population. For many of the youth, the staff become mentors and role models – most of the juveniles stay in contact even after finishing the four-month program.

Released by: Tom Bennett
Community Relations Coordinator
(503) 338-3622

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