Intervention: Guiding Youthful Offenders to Make Positive Behavior Choices

These days, local governments across the country are faced with declining revenues, rising costs, and fiscal pressures from every conceivable direction, all while being expected to do more with less. Like many other communities, the Park Forest (IL) Police Department recently found itself facing the challenge of a swell of crime and disorder related to an increase in single family rental housing due to the foreclosure and mortgage crisis. This challenge was combined with an influx of lower socioeconomic families from distressed areas in nearby Chicago, which in the last few years demolished most of its subsidized high-rise housing.

The Park Forest Police Department, by thinking of creative ways to address some of these problems without further burdening its budget, has faced this challenge in part by using strategic partnerships to approach juvenile offenders. Confining youths to detention centers, jails, or prisons is not only costly, but it also does not necessarily produce favorable results. The Park Forest Police, under the leadership of Chief Tom Fleming, looked for a better way for producing positive outcomes with juvenile offenders and, thus, created the Guided Vision Program (GVP).

The GVP is a four-week program designed under the restorative justice model and operates under auspices of the local police department’s Youth Services Division, Community Supervision Program. The program was created with the understanding that the most effective way to resolve the impact of drug use and violence by youthful offenders is to reduce the motivation to commit such offenses, while repairing the harm done to the community by those offenses.

Parents are currently required to pay a fine of $750.00 to the city if their child commits an offense. However, under the GVP, this fine is waived if the child completes a minimum of sixteen hours of community service while the parent or guardian attends two hours of parent education meetings. Community service provides an opportunity for the youth to help make the community whole again, while learning positive behaviors and promoting self-reflection. Chief Fleming also stated that “This program can be replicated in any county court district or local police agency. With the help of our local higher education community, what was a fifteen year old Community Service “orange vest” teen work detail is now 40 percent community clean up and 60 percent direct counseling services for both the parent and the youth who has displayed the “at risk” behavior. We know our four week, Guided Vision Program is doing something right, based on the more positive relationships reported by our youth, their parent(s) and the Community after the family finishes.” For example, a group of GVP youth—working alongside the police—is helping prepare for an upcoming community dance by painting an unused storefront, thus saving the city money on space rental for the event. The Police Department has also partnered with the local Habitat for Humanity and the Parks Department to provide additional opportunities for meaningful community service.

Individual and group counseling sessions are another critical component to the success of the Guided Vision Program. The Park Forest Police Department has partnered with Governor’s State University (GSU) School of Guidance and Counseling to provide counseling services for both the offender and his or her parent/guardian. This unique relationship provides an opportunity for graduate students pursuing a Master of Arts degree in School Counseling to gain real-world experience in working directly with at-risk youth. Youth are provided with career and behavior counseling, which is aimed at promoting self-awareness, a sense of forward movement, and solutions to break the cycle of negative consequences.

Critically, parents are also required to attend mandatory education meetings to enhance their awareness of how they provide care and support for their children. Structured group sessions teach parents and guardians how they might convey expectations and set appropriate boundaries for their households. The Guided Vision Program, therefore, is an intervention method that directs the parent or guardian, not just the offender, to examine his or her responsibility for the incident that brought the offender under community supervision. Parents learn as a group how to identify their own style of parenting and develop new problem solving skills. Quite often, after these sessions, participants are observed exchanging phone numbers and making arrangements to get together for coffee, evidence that parents are finding support within the group. Following the required sessions, they are also offered the option of making additional counseling appointments.

Despite tight budgets and reduced resources, the Village of Park Forest’s Police Department has focused on sustaining the Guided Vision Program through creative funding and partnerships. The four-week curriculum, designed to empower youth with awareness of their strengths, was developed by the GSU graduate students. This partnership has proven so successful that other area universities are now also participating by providing counseling services. The program has also found a dedicated funding source; a percentage of the Village’s auto seizure fines are specifically allocated to the police department’s Youth Services Division, which runs the GVP.

The GVP was created as a proactive response to reducing juvenile violence and crime by providing consequences within the community for inappropriate decision-making by adolescent youth. It looks to create less expensive, more effective alternatives to traditional police responses and incarceration. Ultimately, the goal of the GVP is to turn a crisis into an opportunity by assisting families in making a conscientious decision to develop new behaviors and a plan for the future.

-LaTanya J. Owens,
Grant Program Specialist,
The COPS Office

-Kathy Fleming,
Governor’s State University

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