The pipeline from the school disciplinary system to prison has been clearly identified by many researchers. The question is: How do we shut it off, and when and where can we do it?
One answer has been promoted and acted upon by a local organization, the Council on At-risk Youth (CARY). Founded in 1999 as a nonprofit organization with the mission of "helping youth promote safe schools and safe communities," CARY works in close collaboration with the Austin Independent School District. Each school year, CARY conducts prevention programs with 600 of the most aggressive and abusive middle school youths involved in school disciplinary system.
CARY youth advisers are located at seven Austin school district campuses, where they engage aggressive disciplinary students referred by school authorities in a curriculum called "Aggression Replacement Training." CARY advisers teach social skills, anger management, aggression control and empathy training. In addition to these small-group skills training activities, CARY staff members also provide individual counseling and offer parent training support groups.
The results of the CARY program have been evaluated by outside experts on a consistent basis. The evaluations find that CARY targets the very highest risk youths, and the programs are effective in decreasing aggression levels, achieving behavioral and attitudinal improvements, and promoting safer and more peaceful campus environments. These positive assessments have been seconded by school principals, counselors and parents.
There are also tangible dollar savings in these programs. CARY's cost of $750 annually for each high-risk youth in Austin pales in comparison to the cost of a one-year sentence in Travis County Jail ($15,000); a year in a state prison ($18,500); or a year at a Texas Youth Commission facility (more than $100,000). In fact, when a high school dropout embarks on a 10-year criminal career, the costs related to criminal justice services, lost payroll tax revenue, lost child support payments and losses to victims cumulatively represent a cost to the American public of between $1.7 million and $2.3 million for each youthful offender.
The proven, cost-avoiding and, in some cases, life-saving programs CARY conducts merit support from local and state government. During the past six years, half the nonprofit's budget has come from contracts with Travis County and the City of Austin. Travis County continues its support, but CARY prevention programs very nearly fell victim to the budget ax of the City Health and Human Services Commission.
If you support effective and cost-efficient prevention and intervention programs for at-risk youths, help us cut off the pipeline to prison. Call on city, county and state elected officials to support the cost of an ounce of prevention by dedicating the equivalent of at least 1 percent of our juvenile and criminal justice system budgets to initiatives like CARY's.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
Advocates: Spend 1% of justice budgets on juvenile programming for at-risk youth
Three local contributors from the Council on At-Risk Youth have an op ed in the Austin Statesman today that may interest Grits readers concerned with juvenile justice. Noting that 30% of arrests in Travis County last year involved juveniles, the editorial concludes: