Juvenile diversion program gives first-time youth offenders second chance

Everyone makes mistakes in life. But sometimes, life offers a do-over.

Sauk County Human Services is teaming up with the Boys and Girls Club in Baraboo to give first-time youth offenders a second chance.

“The whole purpose of the juvenile court system is for second chances,” said Sauk County Youth Justice Supervisor Mindy Mattson. “We give them an opportunity to learn from their mistakes without being overly focused on consequencing them.”

A new program is being launched within the next couple of months to allow low-risk youth the opportunity to steer their lives in the right direction.

“Instead of having them assigned to an intake worker, we are going to divert them to the Boys and Girls Club,” Mattson said. “The goal is to help these kids identify with a positive peer group, have opportunities to engage in positive behavior.”

The deal is that any youth who commits a minor crime for the first time would be referred to a four- to six-week program instead of getting a mark on their record. During the program, the child would be paired with an adult mentor for one-on-one sessions and would get to work with peers in their age group and engage in positive team-building activities. After completing the program, a continued membership to the Boys and Girls Club would be offered to keep them on the right path.

“The program is 100% voluntary. The only consequence that could happen is if that youth were referred again, we would not offer that program again,” Mattson said.

Young kids don’t always make the best choices. Instead of punishing them for their mistakes, this program will give them a chance to make the right choice the second time around.

“I don’t believe that a lot of the youth are defiant in rebellion just because that’s who they are,” Mattson said. “I think it’s the opportunities they’re presented with.”

The executive director at the Boys and Girls Club, Karen DeSanto, said in a statement, “All kids deserve a chance to make mistakes and then grow and learn from them. This prevention model is definitely a step in the right direction of providing strong adult supports to kids who need us the most.”

Police would need to refer a child to the program. Mattson would then contact the child’s parents to let them know that the program is available. The Boys and Girls Club would also let the parents know more about the program. If a child and their parents do not want to enter the program, that child would go through the juvenile justice system in the same manner a high-risk juvenile offender would, through Sauk County Human Services.

“It’s not going to work for everyone but we are hopeful it will work for most of them,” Mattson said.

Mattson said police have already referred one person to them for this program. She said Human Services hope to launch the program soon.

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