Program helps stop repeat juvenile offenders in danger - WKRN News 2

Program helps stop repeat juvenile offenders in danger

Posted: Updated: April 1, 2013 10:20 PM

Funding for a program that helps keep juvenile offenders from returning to the system is in jeopardy because the state grant that helps fund the program is set to expire this summer.

Reaching Excellence as Leaders (REAL) works with juvenile offenders and other at-risk youth to change their behaviors and hopefully their futures.

"They are getting some more tools to pile in the tool belt just like mom has given them, dad has given them and school has given them," Program Manager Ron Johnson said. "They are getting them from a different perspective they are getting them from someone who walked the same road they are on."

Over the past three years, the program has helped more than 300 young people, with 85% not reoffending after graduation, according to R.E.A.L.'s Web site.  

It is credited with helping the state of Tennessee cut its juvenile confinement by 63% since 1997.

The Justice Policy Institute listed Tennessee as one of the top five states in the nation for reducing juvenile confinement.

REAL started three years ago with the help of a grant from the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.

The grant was for $100,000 a year for three years, but budget reductions at the federal and state level have affected the amount of money provided.

For the past two years, the program has operated with less money from the grant.

The grant expires June 30, 2013. If another funding source is not found, the REAL program and the Transitions program at W.A Bass Alternative Learning Center would end.

Organizers said that will not just affect the students in the program, but the community as a whole.

"Some of these young men, if they didn't have the program might be those young men who come into people's windows who rob," Johnson said. "Those young men could do a number of things in these streets, but because they are in this program they changed the way they think."

One of those young men is Keaton Cooper, 14, who was sent to the program as an alternative to jail time as a juvenile offender.

He entered the program in September 2012 and graduated.

He is now president of the newly-formed alumni group of REAL.

"Pretty much he taught us common sense," Cooper said. "Before I came in here I didn't really use my common sense. I kind of went with the flow."

Cooper said that since he was in REAL, his relationship with his mother is better and he has new goals that he did not have before.

"I think my mom is a lot happier because I know how to make decisions," he said. "I think she feels comfortable with me going places and doesn't have to worry about me doing something stupid."

Cooper would like to go into real estate or architecture in the future.

Johnathan Hayes, 16, also completed the program with Cooper. He is vice-president of the alumni association.

He was not referred to the program by the juvenile courts. Instead, his grandmother contacted the REAL program when she began to worry about Hayes' behavior.

"With me, it really helped me with my anger and things like that," Hayes said. "[Johnson] told me to think about everything before I react."

He continued, "With doing that I decided I was going to try to express myself more, not let things build up."

OASIS is looking for corporate sponsorships to help keep the program running.

The center is also accepting donations at their location at 1704 Charlotte Avenue, second floor, or through the organization's Web site.

The organization is a recognized non-profit and donations are tax deductible.

When compared to incarceration, the program saves a great deal of money.

It costs $24,531 a year to house one inmate in a Tennessee Prison for one year. The same amount of money would provide services to several students through the REAL program.

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