Helping At-Risk Youth Avoid the Prison Pipeline

05/06/13 0

A large part of the Lionheart Foundation’s mission focuses on highly at-risk youth. We are committed to helping adolescents succeed by providing tools to help them skillfully manage obstacles that are pervasive in their lives and often at the center of their high-risk and criminal behavior.  The need for support and services for these youth is great, and yet, in many instances, youth are incarcerated, often in the adult system, instead of being offered the services and support important to their success.

According to a survey conducted in 40 states by the Vera Institute, the cost of incarceration for America’s prisoners was $39 billion in 2010 alone. This cost is on the rise partly due to the incarceration of minors sentenced as adults.  Thankfully, there has been increasing focus from the media on the destructive impact of the school-to-prison pipeline that funnels at risk youth, some as young as 16, into our nation’s prisons.  A report by Tavis Smiley, “Education Under Arrest,” shines a light on this horrendous situation: 

On a brighter note, last week, the Massachusetts Houses of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that, if signed, will move all 17-year-old offenders from the adult system into the juvenile system, opening up possible opportunities for rehabilitation they might not otherwise have.

Helping at-risk youth avoid the prison pipeline was one of the many reasons the Lionheart Foundation launched The National Emotional Literacy Project for Youth-At-Risk in 2003. Lionheart is part of the solution to the problem and our new initiative to bring a classroom-based social-emotional literacy program to at-risk youth will provide needed support. This program is being piloted at Berkshire Farms, a residential treatment center and school in Canaan, NY. The current Power Source Program is geared to delivery by clinicians while the new curriculum will be geared to the classroom teacher. After piloting the program, Lionheart will work with school-based curriculum specialists to bring this pilot curriculum to another level, one that can be utilized in schools nationally.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t solely depend on what happens in schools and at the state capitols of our nation. It starts in communities and families. It starts with us.

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