11 Things to Do with Teens in the Justice System

juvenile-justice-reform-positive-youth-development-11-activities-teens-jumpingLast week, I featured our top 10 stories on juvenile justice and adolescent substance abuse treatment and 8 great resources to improve adolescent substance abuse treatment.
This week, I'm highlighting posts from our first year to help you focus on creative ways to help teens in the justice system and in recovery learn skills that will help them live crime-free and drug-free lives.
Here's 11 things you can do with teens in your justice system:

  1. Read books together. Don't scoff - this really works, even with kids who aren't great readers. The model I have in mind is Changing Lives through Literature. Find out why the chief juvenile probation officer in Bristol County, MA loves the program. On a related note, many teens also benefit from writing poetry.
  2. Reward teens when they do things right. A community-based prevention program in Canada and Maine, where police hand out "positive tickets" to kids caught doing things right, and not just when they break the law, has shown encouraging results. Can it be modified for your community -- or your juvenile program?
  3. Teach them to cook. Teens in a culinary program in a juvenile probation camp in L.A. County made a gourmet meal for area bigwigs.
  4. Give them cameras so they can tell their own stories. Teach them to use digital media -- who knows? They might end up making a powerful documentary film, as these inmates in a juvenile jail did.
  5. Teach them yoga. A program in Oakland, CA, offers 70 yoga classes per week to at-risk youth (follow the link and scroll down to the ninth bullet); they learn self-control and calm.
  6. Put them to work at a museum. A program in the U.K. hooked up youth in the justice system with a local vintage car museum.
  7. Connect them with a caring adult. Try the 4C Coalition at the Reclaiming Futures site in Seattle for a mentoring program that targets kids in the justice system -- similarly,or contact our Reclaiming Futures site in Dayton, Ohio, which has recruited over 100 "natural helpers" from the community to work with teens in trouble with the law.
  8. Put them to work reforming the juvenile justice system. For example, the Center for Court Innovation had youth in the system collect information from famlies, youth, and juvenile justice system professionals about why it is that so many teens and caregivers caught up in the system have no idea how it works. What they came up with wasn't child's play: their recommendations -- if followed -- could dramatically improve outcomes.
  9. Ask teens to map community resources. Organize teens to do something positive for their peers and their community by mapping positive activities for youth and other resources they need.
  10. Train youth to do anti-violence outreach. Don't think it can be done? That's exactly what Clemmie Greenlee has done in Nashville.
  11. Train them to support their peers in recovery. Connecticut Turning to Youth & Families is building networks of teens and young adults who help their peers be successful in recovery from drugs and alcohol. (And they're happy to consult with you.)

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Updated: November 11 2009