The program is changing youths' hearts and minds, a court official says.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County Juvenile Court is winding down its residential treatment program for youths with substance abuse problems because money and space are lacking.
It's one of a handful of similar programs across the U.S. and has been primarily funded with grants.
"We look at this as a delay, not an end," said Jerry Carter, executive director of Neil Kennedy Recovery Clinic, which provided treatment services for program participants.
The residential program was the last chance for these youths to avoid detention in a state facility until age 21, Juvenile Judge Theresa Dellick said. By keeping youths in Youngstown, the program also made it possible for family members to participate in their rehabilitation.
The court stopped taking referrals in March. The last 11 participants either will complete their stays this summer or be sent to state detention, Judge Dellick said.
Michael Flatley, the program's director, was to leave Thursday to start a new job in Nevada.
Juvenile court already had a drug court and diversion program but needed a long-term option for youths with felony-level convictions and a history of drug abuse, Judge Dellick said.
The first youth was accepted in September 2002. Since then, 102 youths entered the program. Twenty-four of them didn't complete it and were sent to state detention in Columbus, Flatley said. Of the 61 who finished the program, 35 subsequently had no or minimal court appearances, he noted.
Seventeen are still participants, including six in what Flatley called "active aftercare," meaning they receive outpatient services. That program will continue.
On average, participants have been in juvenile detention four times and have experienced one or two previous attempts at substance abuse treatment, Flatley said.
While the youths were held in JJC's detention center for at least six months, they received counseling on a variety of issues, including drug and alcohol problems, family relationships and mental health.
Youths also were exposed to therapeutic living, which includes a community atmosphere. One resident's bad actions affected the whole group, Flatley said. Principles of honesty, work ethic and economic self-reliability are emphasized.
"This program changes their hearts as well as their minds," court administrator Anthony M. D'Apolito said.
Vince, a remaining program participant, agrees. "I think it's working pretty good. My parents say they see a change in me," he said. After being expelled twice from school, Vince said he wants to graduate and open a business.
Another participant, Andre, said he's gotten used to talking openly about himself and his past. "I don't care what you think of me," he said of people. "If you can't help me, just don't hurt me."
Needed to expand
The program needed to expand but couldn't with current funding. The first grant from the state Office of Criminal Justice Services for $132,380 was awarded in 2002. The grant was renewed every year, peaked at $159,556, then declined to $142,359 last year as money for such programs diminished.
Ten of the 40 beds in JJC's detention center were reserved for this program, but Judge Dellick said all 40 beds are now needed for the facility's regular population.
Judge Dellick and staff looked for alternatives, but they faced challenges. The program had to be offered in a secured facility, so it couldn't be relocated to private treatment centers that can't lock their doors, she said. The cost of converting existing county-owned space, such as that in the Southside Annex, is "astronomical," she added.
Judge Dellick has priced standalone units that are comparable to mobile classrooms outside some local schools. Each costs about $225,000 and could house up to six youths. There is room behind the JJC building to add the units, and the property is fenced in, she said. It may be feasible to purchase them if payments can be spread over a 10- or 20-year period, she said.
Before they act, juvenile court officials want more information about the county's finances. "We don't want to put more burden on the county," D'Apolito said.