County seeks alternative measures for youth offenders

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, September 24, 2019

LaFAYETTE — Chambers County and the Alabama Department of Youth Services are working together to keep youth offenders out of jail cells.

The Chambers County Transitions Program offers individualized services to adolescents with behavior and legal issues.

Kay Baker, program manager, said the purpose of the program is to work with youth offenders on their surroundings, by going into their homes and schools and acting as a counselor.

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“The idea is to keep them from going into state facilities,” she said. “To keep them from being sent away.”

The program serves males between the ages of 12 and 18 with a medium or high-risk of re-arrest.

The project got started in January and Baker is only supposed to manage 12 kids but typically she has about 15 on her caseload. However, she currently has about 21 youth on her watch.

The county has stepped in to help with her load by obtaining a $156,000 grant to hire another counselor.

Baker said her increased caseload wasn’t due to the county defying the grant requirements. Rather, it was in preparation knowing the grant was coming, and there would be another counselor.

“The need is that high,” she said.

The new counselor is scheduled to start Oct. 1.

The state grant is given to counties that have a high number of youth offenders being sent to state facilities.

According to Baker, most of the children in the program have committed a crime and have been seen by a judge.

County Attorney Skip McCoy said the program gives District Judge Calvin Milford discretion when sentencing.

“As a judicial system and county, we try to rehabilitate and give people options rather than just locking them up and forgetting about them,” he said. “A lot of times, these kids think that nobody cares. If you somebody in the program who knows that people care, it’s amazing how they respond.”

Baker said as a counselor, she’s involved in every aspect of a child’s life. She said she’s inside the home with the child, learning about their home life and what behaviors are happening there.

She said the social work that takes place in a familiar setting for the child includes how to change behavior characteristics, connect them with positive services and manage their case files.

Beyond just trying to rehabilitate them, if there is nobody to take a teenager to get their driver’s license or to look for a job, she’s there for them.

“Anything that will get their lives in a better situation,” Baker said.

Baker works for Bridge Inc., a company that the county contracts with to administer the services for the grant. Bridge is located in Gadsden and is an adolescent substance use treatment counseling center that opened in 1974.

Baker said on average about 70 percent of the kids in her caseload have substance abuse in their background.

“It can be an experimental background or somebody who is heavily involved,” she said.

Since the program’s inception, Baker said she has discharged about four children from the program. To complete the program, Baker said there needs to be a treatment plan and goals must be met. If the children do everything they are supposed to do, they will get released, but it’s not as simple as checking a few boxes and they’re done.

“It is not necessary the timeframe but what they have done successfully,” she said.

Baker said there is constant monitoring and the program is about changing the child’s life — not telling them how to do it.

“When a person comes into their lives and really cares about all of their life and offers to work side-by-side, it can help,” she said. “I don’t complete their plan, they do.”