An Albany County program designed to help juvenile offenders is expanding from the city of Albany to its suburbs.
Since 2006, the Albany County Probation Department has operated the Juvenile Community Accountability Board in Albany. Through the program, three or four volunteers meet with juvenile offenders and their parents to try and keep them from getting into more trouble with the law. State regulations allow for the juvenile to be involved with the program for up to four months.
“One of the things we try to do with kids coming through for the first or second time is work with them to prevent them from going further into the system,” said Lisa Mahar, a senior probation officer for the county who also coordinates the program for youth.
When an offender under the age of 16 is charged, the Probation Department receives the information on their case. Mahar said that’s when they determine if a child is right for the JCAB program.
“They discuss what happened that caused them to be charged, who they think they affected, and then they come up with a plan,” said Mahar.
Going through the JCAB program is usually an alternative to other punishment like incarceration, and is oftentimes a youth’s last opportunity to reverse his or her course before entering the justice system.
Outside of Albany, the program has been a success so far in Watervliet. Mahar tells the story of a teen who committed to community service hours in that city and was offered a job at the same site following the end of the service. The boy was also connected to a boxing program in Cohoes and is training for an amateur fight in February.
The next step for Mahar is to get the program going in Bethlehem and Guilderland.
“There is a need there,” said Mahar. “The numbers aren’t as high as in Albany, but we wanted the other areas to have the advantage of being able to utilize this program.”
In 2010, Mahar said the Probation Department saw an 84 percent success rate among young people who participated in the program.
“Where we see the most successes with the kids are when they have that strong family support network, and the ones that get what we’re trying to do as well,” said Mahar. “They come to the meeting, they are open to the meeting and the process, and they feel that they’ve gotten something out of it.”
Right now, Mahar is attempting to recruit volunteers who would be able to attend meetings in Bethlehem and Guilderland. The biggest hurdle to clear is finding people who are committed to helping their community in some way.
“The minimum qualifications are that you have to be 18 years of age,” said Mahar. “Because we are a county agency, we ask that you live, work or have a vested interest in the county.”
Volunteers must participate in a one-day training as part of the program. The number of volunteers that meet with a juvenile offender is limited in order to keep the interaction between the child and volunteers more personal. Mahar said she matches up experienced volunteers with those who are just joining the program.
Meetings with juvenile offenders outside of Albany are already scheduled at Bethlehem Town Hall and the Guilderland Public Library. Along with finding volunteers, Mahar said it is important to reach out and form relationships with community organizations, as many of the participants in the program are often asked to complete some type of community service.
Those interested in volunteering are asked to fill out an application on the Albany County Probation Department’s website. For more information, contact Lisa Mahar at 518-487-5856, or by email at [email protected]