New education, training program for juvenile court

Island County Juvenile Court will soon start a pilot program aimed at reducing recidivism through education and career training.

The county board of commissioners agreed to fund the Education and Employment Training program last week during a work session.

The individualized program will include a partnership with the Coupeville School District to educate eligible young people in the system about creating resumes, performing interviews and other skills related to securing work.

The program will also include placing the participants in service project opportunities to build vocational skills and work ethic.

“Ultimately, it’s going to keep kids busy,” said Andrew Somers, administrator for juvenile court. “Idle hands are just not a good thing when you’re trying to keep some one from getting re-arrested.”

The two-year test of the project will cost around $40,000 a year, which will be paid for through the court’s Juvenile Detention Reserve account.

The money would pay for a new part-time staff member to supervise projects, generate referrals to the school district and create community partnerships for the establishment of service projects, according to a memorandum about the program.

The three commissioners all expressed strong support for the pilot, which is recognized as an evidence-based program by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy for reducing recidivism.

“If there were a number bigger than 100 percent, I would be that percent supportive,” said Commissioner Jill Johnson. “… I think that there are so many upsides to this.”

Somers said the program may also be used as an alternative to sentencing. He said it could be used to allow youth to perform structured community service instead of spending time in the jail.

“The goal, obviously, is to keep kids out of detention whenever possible,” he said. “If there are no community risk factors, let’s keep these kids in the community and rehabilitate them to the environment they’re already in.”

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said this program felt like a “natural next step” to programs already offered by the court. These include a first-time offender diversion program, aggression replacement training and classes offered within the detention center and drug court.

The new program will target moderate- to high-risk young people, Somers said, but potentially all youth within the system would have the option. He hopes to begin in the fall.

After one year, the program will be evaluated, measuring number of people served and noting the types of behaviors exhibited before and after participating.

Somers said this will be the first formal program that helps prepare the young people for the workplace.

“If we can get them interested in something like that early on,” he said, “and help guide them toward that pathway within their future, that’s a good thing.”

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