Berrien County's program is reducing juvenile recidivism

Jul 16, 2014

Credit Wikimedia Commons

In a story we aired yesterday on European prisons, we learned the apparent key to reducing recidivism. In Europe, keeping family ties intact is priceless.

There’s a juvenile justice plan in Berrien County that’s been applying these principles since 2001, strengthening family ties, and keeping young offenders out of jail when possible.

And their approach is paying off.

Elvin Gonzalez is the family Division Administrator for the Berrien County Trial Court.

He said that when looking at the youth who come into to court to look at their family system.

“Many of the factors that contributed to them being logged with delinquency came from two primary domains, their family domain and their school domain,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said that it was important to address both of those domains and provide interventions that target those areas, strengthen the families’ ability to supervise, effectively monitor and discipline, and support their children.

“Our belief is, is that kids live in an ecology. That ecology is their family system, their neighborhood, their community, their school and we needed to impact those areas to help youth be successful in our communities," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez added that while they are trying to fix the source of the youth’s actions, accountability for those actions are not forgotten.

The county has seen a lot of success with their programs. In 2001, more than 125 youths were in out-of-home residential placements throughout Michigan. Today, that number has dropped to about 40 youths.

Recidivism has dropped from more than 58% in 1998 to 17.5% in 2012. 

“It’s important that we help kids learn various skills, be more effective in managing conflict, make better decisions – but ultimately, at the end of the day, we need to move the needle on recidivism,” Gonzalez said.

*Listen to full interview above.