Congratulations to New Hanover County for being recognized with a 2019 ICMA Program Excellence Award (for populations 50,000 or greater) for its Community Service and Restitution Program. The county was recognized by the International City & County Management Association (ICMA) for this program, which focuses on reducing juvenile recidivism – one of New Hanover County’s five highest priorities in the county’s five-year strategic plan.
In 2016, North Carolina was the only state at the time to prosecute all individuals age 16 and older as adults, resulting in a high percentage of job seekers with adult criminal records. New Hanover, in particular, identified the reduction of juvenile recidivism as a priority. Facing this challenge, the county’s Community Justice Services Department staff developed an innovative approach to prepare youth with the soft skills necessary to enter and compete successfully in the local employment market.
The Community Service and Restitution Program operates in partnership with more than 40 community stakeholders to facilitate successful completion of court-ordered and court-diverted community service hours as an alternative to secure custody for youth ages 6–17.
The program includes an eight-week job skills development component that provides age-appropriate youth with an understanding of the job market and strategies for seeking and obtaining employment. The course covers the community context, personal values, a skills inventory, resume preparation, job application, interview skills, and on-the-job expectations such as time management, teamwork, and work ethic.
The job skills development component embraces web-based resources to educate youth on accessing mobile job applications and other professional websites. Upon completion of the job skills development portion of the program, youth are provided with individualized resource packets including sample job applications, resumes, and a “skill bank” of specific, personalized skill building sets. Families also receive an aftercare plan that offers relevant resources. Youth and guardians are provided an anonymous customer service survey that allows for immediate feedback regarding service quality and accessibility.
Those youths who have participated in the program have demonstrated marked improvements in multiple areas specifically targeted by the program: decreased recidivism rates, increased school participation, and an overall increase in the necessary interpersonal and soft skills for entry into the local employment market. Since 2015, the program has served 155 youth,72 of whom have graduated. Of the 72, only 11 had further adjudications in juvenile court—a recidivism of just 15 percent.
Congratulations, New Hanover County – and especially to the youths who have actively participated in this program.