Alternative programs, local nonprofits reforming the Salem youth system

There are 400 children on probation at any given time in the Marion County Juvenile Department.

Jaleaha Wright, 18, was one of them.

She entered the juvenile system last year after falling out with a girl who she says spat on her. It was the first time she had been in trouble.

While the majority of youth in the department make hours of service and restitution payments through alternative programs, Juvenile Department Director Troy Gregg estimates that about 30% of youth seek out other community organizations to non-profit.

The Juvenile Department’s list of partner organizations as an external community service resource includes Habitat for Humanity Mid Willamette Valley, City of Salem Parks, and Latinos Unidos Siempre. Black Joy Oregon joined the list in 2021.

Family link

Julianne Jackson, founder of Black Joy Oregon, is a firm believer in the need for alternative programs. At Black Joy Oregon, she lets teens travel with the organization on their Black Joy tour and teaches them about social justice work.

She also focuses on the key factors that bring teenagers into the juvenile system in the first place.

Wright knew Jackson as one of his mother’s longest friends. Jackson supported Wright and his family after Wright’s sister, Shatamera, was killed while crossing the street near the corner of Commercial Street and Royvonne Avenue in 2019.

“She watched this,” Jackson said. “Obviously she suffered significant trauma and had a hard time.”

Read more:A mother pleads for a crosswalk after her daughter died crossing a busy intersection

Wright’s mother asked if she could complete her community service hours with Black Joy Oregon. Jackson had been planning to lead a youth program for some time and jumped at the chance.

Jackson’s passion for providing opportunities for teenagers in juvenile justice stems from his own experience in the Marion County juvenile system. She remembers feeling vilified by the school district and the juvenile system after she was arrested for punching another freshman. This student had called her a racial slur, she said.

“If it weren’t for, I think, luck and a bit of courage, I would have been in exactly the same situation (going through the pipeline from school to prison),” Jackson said. “I was very lucky that I didn’t have any issues as an adult. I feel very lucky to have gone through different stages of my life where I probably could have been in the system and it didn’t happen. is not produced.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure people have access to the things that make them feel good and that allow them to thrive and give them hope,” she said.

Black Joy Oregon founder Julianne Jackson and her 10-year-old daughter Delilah Fredrickson at the Black Joy Oregon office in Salem on December 4.

A different approach

Alternative programs, established in the county in the late 1970s, offer youth involved in the justice system the opportunity to give back to the community through services, work to restitute victims of crime and, in some cases , to learn higher-level technical skills for future employability, according to Gregg.

Minors who participate in the alternative programs can be between the ages of 12 and 18, although the typical age is 15 or 16, Gregg said.

Teenagers are usually referred to certain programs by a probation officer and priority is given to those who must perform court-ordered community service and those who receive restitution payments, he said. The department has approximately 400 children on probation at any one time.

An example is the Matrix program, which offers jobs involving physical labor to teenagers who have violated supervision conditions or are looking for ways to pay compensation. The job includes tasks such as working at the department’s factory cutting firewood, recycling paint, picking up paint, managing vegetation, cleaning ditches, landscaping and lawn maintenance.

Jaleaha Wright, 18, works for Black Joy Oregon as an alternative community service program.  Wright learned administrative duties, joined the Black Joy Tour and submitted a testimonial during the 2021 session.

“Learning is liberating”: developing a profession

Teens can also spend their days measuring, cutting, and sanding with Josh Navarrete at the Carpentry Shop, one of several job training programs offered by the Marion County Juvenile Department.

Targeted Use of Employment and Labor (FUEL) offers programs such as: carpentry shop, construction, mechanics, metalworking, having more responsibilities and developing business skills and more advanced skills that can translate into the workforce.

At the carpentry shop, youth use crosscut saws, sanders, carpenters and lathes to shape their wood into products that are then sold at the Fresh Start Market & Espresso, another program where teens can learn customer service skills. These include pens, pizza cutter handles, teaspoon handles and cutting boards.

A typical day starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m., with between two and four children working in the store simultaneously.

Accumulated hours worked translate into dollar amounts that are used to pay restitution, Navarrete said. Funds from Fresh Start sales are reinvested into the program to buy more tools for teens.

Josh Navarrete, a local blacksmith and owner of Navarrete Knives.  Teenagers can spend their days measuring, cutting, and sanding at the Navarrete Carpentry Shop, one of several job training programs offered by the Marion County Juvenile Department.

Navarrete, a blacksmith and owner of NK Forge and Metalworks in West Salem, credits his high school teacher with instilling his own love of woodturning and handwork.

“For me it’s relief, for me it’s escape, it’s therapy,” he said.

He said he had worked with retirees, veterans, people with disabilities and underrepresented groups, but always wanted to work with children. He seized the opportunity when he saw a job offer as an aid worker in the youth department last year.

Navarrete says the teenagers he works with are hungry for knowledge.

“Learning for them is liberating,” he said. “Most of these kids believe that where they’re from, where they live, what they’ve been through, that’s all they’re going to know.

“What this program does is give them choices, it gives them a little taste of what else is out there,” he said.

Many children, he says, have never had the opportunity to work with their hands or develop a trade.

Work gives young people a sense of accomplishment and injects a dose of confidence.

“Unfortunately, they haven’t heard a lot of people say ‘good job’ or ‘you’ve accomplished this’, so their self-esteem is pretty low – or they don’t,” Navarrete said. “So when they’re able to accomplish little things like this, for them, that’s huge.”

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Navarrete acknowledged that the program’s efforts are only one piece of the puzzle in rehabilitating youth involved in justice. He knows that children face external challenges and pressures in their personal lives when they leave the store.

Approaching teens without judgment or preconceptions removes barriers to trust and makes it easier to listen, Navarrete said. Sometimes it’s as simple as having conversations over lunch or being aware of their difficulties if they come to work with negative attitudes.

“Once they realize that you’re actually acknowledging that maybe they’re having a bad day, then they’re more willing to talk about what’s really going on,” Navarrete said.

Failing to recognize external challenges means teenagers failing, Jackson added.

“Nobody chooses to have antisocial behavior,” Jackson said. “No one would naturally make that choice. No one would naturally say, ‘Forget it, I want to be a violent person'”

This is why she emphasizes restorative justice practices in Black Joy Oregon and why Wright was encouraged to join the group in their Black Joy Oregon, encouraged to write legislative testimony and participate in various Black Joy Oregon events .

“I’ve internalized that I’m the problem. I’m a failure now. I can’t succeed,” Jackson said.

This is not reality. Jackson said it should be up to adults to figure out why kids of color fail.

“That’s one of the most important things to me, taking that burden off the kids and putting it back on the adults where it belongs and giving them the opportunity to see themselves in spaces that I never would.”

Wright has since completed her mandatory community service hours, but she has no plans to stop her work with Black Joy Oregon. She’s thrilled to be joining the band again on their next stop on the Black Joy Tour and she’s grateful to have adults in her life who have stepped up and acknowledged that she doesn’t have to be a “blame maker.” trouble”.

“Our community needs more help and guidance,” Wright said. “You don’t have to feel like you’re just a bad boy.”

Dianne Lugo is a reporter for the Statesman Journal and covers equity and social justice. You can reach her at [email protected], 503-936-4811 or on Twitter @DianneLugo.

Virginia Barreda is the breaking news, public safety and courts reporter at the Statesman Journal. She can be reached at 503-910-6982 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @vbarreda2.

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