Excellence in Volunteerism Award Winner
Orange County Probation Department
Volunteers in Probation
The number of girls in the Orange County juvenile justice system has dramatically increased in the past five years. If this trend continues, hundreds, if not thousands, of girls will enter Orange County’s juvenile justice system in the next few years. Understandably, the surge in numbers has generated concern. Despite a robust program to assist boys in the juvenile justice system with successful re-entry into the community, the small number of incarcerated girls had historically precluded a systematic re-entry program. Mission Possible was created in December 2005 to address this crisis.
Mission Possible, headed by the Boys and Girls Club of Tustin, is a collaborative partnership between the Orange County Department of Education, Boys and Girls Club of Tustin, Girls Incorporated of Orange County (Girls Inc.) and a number of other agencies that have joined together in a commitment to help girls turn their lives around. As part of the collaborative, dozens of volunteers and interns dedicate more than 1,200 hours each year, working directly with incarcerated girls. Through Mission Possible, girls between the ages of 11 – 18 are offered drug, health and high school education opportunities, gang intervention assistance and occupational training. The programs provide young women with the skills and resources to live healthier lives as they transition from an institutional setting back into the community.
While many programs are proven to be effective in juvenile facilities, once girls are released from incarceration there is still an 85 percent recidivism rate. Girls struggle in dealing with their home circumstances, with obtaining access to services such as health care, higher education and employment and in dealing with the everyday challenges of life. For juvenile offenders to become productive members of society, there must be a sustained transition program that provides support through the justice system and within the community. Resources for this population are slim, not only transitional resources but programming as well. Throughout Orange County, gender-based programs and transitional resources in Juvenile detention facilities are lacking for girls, and were non-existent for girls in the County’s Juvenile Hall. Fortunately, with the implementation of the Mission Possible Program, resources and programming have been enhanced.
Enrichment and life-skills programs that are currently available within the justice system are effective. Mission Possible is able to utilize the education and programming in place to reach the youth and support them through the transition process. Rapport with this population must begin at an early stage. These girls have often been abandoned by their families, abused by their partners and have lived with many broken promises in their lives. Gaining the trust of this population is not an easy task, but one that must be gained in order for them to have a successful transition when they exit the system. Mission Possible has streamlined access to a variety of resources. Basic needs such as housing assistance, medical services, mental health care, employment and access to education are essential in empowering young women and helping them to redirect their lives.
The girls participating in the Mission Possible program at Juvenile Hall attend classes offered two hours each evening, four times a week. The classes are presented by volunteers, interns and a professional staff from Girls Inc. and the Boys and Girls Club of Tustin. Classes can accommodate small groups of 8 – 14 girls or larger groups of 30 – 44 girls. Class activities vary from fun projects to educational programs to dealing with more serious life issues. They focus on dance, cooking, nutrition, anger management, job/life skills and rape prevention. Mission Possible provides a safe and comfortable setting for the girls to discuss personal challenges. As a result, several teens have disclosed for the first time that they are victims of rape. If it were not for the program, their secret would continue to haunt them and impact future decisions and choices.
Mission Possible also offers a feature that research indicates is an essential component of correctional programs and after care. In the past year, 39 girls have continued participation in the Mission Possible program after their release from custody. Volunteers and interns working with the “transitional” group help the girls upon release find jobs and resolve conflicts at home. They provide the girls and their families with a sense of support through the Boys and Girls Club of Tustin and Girls Inc. Support services are also provided to the girls’ families through Mission Possible.
For the first time in history, a Boys and Girls Club has been established inside a detention facility specifically to provide programming and transitional services to girls in Orange County. Staff, volunteers and interns of the Boys and Girls Club of Tustin and Girls Inc. are at the forefront of working with high-risk youth. Mission Possible works intensively with girls while they are incarcerated at OC Juvenile Hall by implementing nationally developed and research-based programs in the areas of: financial literacy, careers & life planning, pregnancy prevention and nutrition education. Currently,each girl leaving the Orange County juvenile justice system has access to health and wellness services, emotional and psychosocial support and solid case management. Because of Mission Possible, the likelihood of girls becoming habitual offenders is reduced.
Mission Possible goes far beyond previous efforts in gender-specific programming. Inspired by the eagerness of the girls to turn their lives around, a diverse group of professionals, volunteers and interns gladly dedicate their time, talents and expertise to the mission and goals of Mission Possible. The commitment of those who work directly with the troubled teens and the partnership created by some of Orange County’s premiere child serving agencies provide local girls with an option to follow a different path than the one that brought them into the juvenile justice system.
Click here to access the Orange County Probation Department Web site.