The aim of the juvenile justice system, all said, is to interrupt criminal behavior before young offenders establish a pattern of crime that persists through adulthood. The Ohio Department of Youth Services is serving this crucial function in part with a program that encourages volunteers to commit for at least one year to be a mentor to one or more juveniles in the state facility.
Almost a year after it was launched, a review indicates the Second Chance Program has the potential to help juveniles build and keep a positive relationship with a responsible adult in their community. For now, the program, funded by federal grants and implemented through three service organizations, targets juveniles who will be released to five urban counties, including Summit.
For three months to six months, the mentors meet with the juveniles before they are released. Mentoring continues for six more months after release, the volunteers giving the kinds of personal guidance and caring that are lacking in the lives of many youngsters in trouble with the law.
State data show a vital need to connect young offenders to adults who promise a positive influence. Within 18 months of release, about 30 percent of juveniles are back in the juvenile or adult system. The recidivism rate reaches 50 percent by the third year. Encouraging to see is that 88 percent of the released youth have kept the relationship with their mentors. About 42 percent are enrolled in school or college.
For information on volunteering in Summit County, contact True North Ministry at 330-896-2700 or visit www.truenorthministry.org.