January 23, 2014

Incarcerated juveniles given a little freedom

New unit benefits

By Amie Sites Pharos-Tribune

LOGANSPORT — A new unit at the Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility is taking an alternative approach to traditional correctional facility methods — and, administrators say, providing a more positive environment.

The Youth Transition Reentry Independent Living (YTRI) Unit is less structured, allowing students to take responsibility for basic operations while offering additional freedom and privileges.

The YTRI housing unit, which is set up like a college dormitory, can house up to 18 people. There are currently nine people in the unit, but the number changes often with people moving in and out, according to Mark Harmon, public information officer at the Logansport Correctional Juvenile Facility.

Harmon, who has worked in juvenile corrections for 21 years, said he has already seen an improvement since the unit started in October.

“It’s nice to see a program display such positive results,” Harmon said. “You can see growth here. They are actually demonstrating that they are learning and it’s encouraging.”

Students in the unit take responsibility for wake-up times by using alarm clocks and participate in orienting new students. Eventually, YTRI Unit students will be involved with new employee orientation to help staff become familiar with student views.

Students must be chosen to participate. They can become a resident by filling out an application, getting three staff recommendations, meeting specific behavioral and performance expectations and eventually facing an interview panel of staff for consideration.

The unit was created out of existing space known formerly as an isolation/segregation unit. The implementation of the unit came from a national push to reduce time spent in isolation.

The experience has proven to be a positive motivation to students involved.

Students within the unit said they enjoyed the ability to talk, less structure, better communication and more responsibility.

Dylan and Nathan are roommates within the YTRI Unit. Within their room is a space for personal items, an alarm clock and a journal to leave some notes of advice for the next people who will enter the room.

Dylan enjoys the increased freedom and ability to communicate in the YTRI Unit. Developing relationships and working closely with the staff has helped Dylan meet goals and work on difficulties, he said.

Nathan, who once didn’t enjoy the increased responsibilities, is learning to embrace and even enjoy them, he said.

The unit is a contrast to the general population units where it is highly structured and talking to others and personal items are not allowed.

James Manley, youth development specialist, has had experience working with both the general population units and now the YTRI Unit. He described the difference between the two as “night and day.”

“The kids have proved they can behave and stay out of trouble,” Manley said. “By getting them away from some of the negativity, they’re able to open up and show their true personality.”

Manley said he hopes it continues to grow in other facilities and in other states.

The YTRI Unit has had a special impact on Gage, who’s been in the unit since it opened. Gage has been at the Logansport Juvenile Facility for 16 months and has eight more months to go before he completes his time.

The four months in the YTRI Unit have been “life-changing” for him, Gage said. “I want to take more responsibility.”

Gage, who earned his General Educational Development diploma while he was in the facility, is able to work one-on-one with a storage clerk during the week. He has turned his longer stay in to an opportunity to mentor others.

“My self-discipline has changed a lot,” Gage said. “I’m able to mentor others and it feels good. Because I’ve been through a lot, I get to explain how to get through it to others.”

Each day the students in the YTRI Unit attend classes. Those who have earned a GED usually go to vocational classes. There are also several learning opportunities to receive certifications in occupational health and safety admission, C-Tech and in food preparation safety.

“I’m so happy about the education opportunities,” Harmon said. “A lot say they’re glad they got in here in the first place because they wouldn’t have continued education otherwise.”

The students are also involved in the 40 Development Assets Group, where a unit counselor, psychologist and a member of the education staff facilitate group members by looking over 40 different assets needed to become a successful adult.

The 40 Development Assets Group meets twice a week for eight weeks and includes a different topic each time.

“When they leave they’re really prepared,” Harmon said.

Ken Hine, counselor for the 40 Development Assets Group, also encourages those in the group to do a good deed without being told and keep a journal on successes and things that weren’t as successful.

“The neatest thing is to see these kids take charge,” Hine said. “They really want that responsibility.”

Amie Sites is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5117 or Follow her: @PharosAES.