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New Program Keeps Youths Off Streets, Out of Juvenile Halls

The county's Alternative Detention Program offers a cost-effective approach to lowering the youth incarceration rate.

Every day in Santa Barbara County, more than 100 youths are confined in one of two juvenile halls, staying an average of 15 days. Probation staff members were convinced that an alternative to confinement could reduce the juvenile hall population and help at-risk youths.  Consequently, they developed a lower-level intervention and implemented the Alternative Detention Program.

This community-based alternative to detention was piloted in Santa Barbara on Jan. 28, and implemented in the Santa   Maria Valley on April 8.

ADP addresses basic needs common among youths in the criminal justice system: a lack of academic achievement, low self-esteem, poor decision-making skills and a lack of supervision and opportunities for positive, leisure activities.

The program, with the school and the family, provides 24-hour supervision. Most youths having completed ADP give the program high ratings. One youth said, “I think it’s a great alternative and gives great opportunities.” Another had the profound awareness that “simple things can be fun.”

Most participants have learned that to be successful and not be one of the 100 youths in juvenile hall, they must attend school, attend ADP and remain at home in the evening.

The program is open Tuesday through Saturday. ADP addresses the basics tutoring and homework assistance, career choices and life skills, and exciting guest speakers. On Saturdays, the youths are involved in graffiti removal, gardening and grounds maintenance and other community projects. The average length of stay in the program is two weeks.

Why ADP? It is a smart alternative to incarceration because it provides a cost-effective structured learning environment for up to 30 youths countywide. The community benefits from ADP because these youths are learning meaningful skills and giving back to the community. Taxpayers benefit from the reduced costs of ADP and an ultimate reduction in the number of juvenile hall days.

Laurie Holbrook is a Santa Barbara County deputy probation officer.

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