From juvenile detention to straight A’s, with the help of a mentor

Connecting former juvenile offenders with caring adults can have a lasting effect, but advocates say the solution is frequently left out of the nationwide discourse around juvenile justice reform.

Published Sept. 28, 2016

— The fight that sent Isabella to juvenile hall at age 11 was neither her first nor her last.

She spent six weeks locked up, but the shadow of the experience stretched for years. Middle and high school were marked by a series of school suspensions and transfers, fighting with schoolmates, and conflicts with her parents, says Isabella, who asked that her last name not be used. She also remained on probation for more than four years.

Then in November, Isabella met Yessenia Ruiz, a mentor coordinator with the Youth Justice Program at the nonprofit Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice, which supports youth who’ve had contact with the justice system. In the months that followed, Ms. Ruiz became Isabella’s go-to person for everything, from help with homework to grabbing burgers after school to relationship advice.

Her presence, Isabella says, was transformative.

“I think I’ve changed because I’ve got someone to talk to, someone that’s on my side and that would understand me,” says Isabella.

***

Read the rest on EqualEd, The Christian Science Monitor’s new section on solutions to education inequity.

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