Lake County officials say they are happy with the progress made in year one of a program designed to train juvenile probationers to get and hold jobs.
While all court systems have job training programs for troubled youth, the Youthful Offender Job Readiness Program based at the Depke Juvenile Justice Center near Vernon Hills has a feature not seen in most -- paying jobs.
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Marci Jumisko, director of administrative services for the 19th Judicial Circuit, said Lake County officials were able to secure about $95,000 in grant funding to support their efforts. "That allowed us to go beyond the standard resume writing and interview skills classroom work and move into real job placement," Jumisko said. "We have a number of public and private sector employers who put our kids to work, and we are able to pay their salaries with the grant money."
A recently-issued report on the YOJRP for 2011 -- the first year of the program -- says of the 69 probationers who entered the program, 25 got jobs. Of that number, 11 went on to land full-time employment.
Nearly all the research into criminal recidivism shows employment is a key to keeping people out of jail.
And for employers in a troubled economy, having someone show up for work everyday who is being paid by someone else is a Godsend.
"It has really been a win-win for everyone involved," said Ed Haley, plant supervisor for the Lake County Department of Public Works. "With the cutbacks in the county budget, we were not able to bring on all the people for summer work that we had in the past, but the kids from the Job Readiness program helped to close that gap." Jumisko said probationers between 15 and 20 years of age are screened for the program based on maturity and motivation.
Those selected are enrolled in a 24-hour, eight-phase textbook course that teaches skills for job searches, successful interviewing, job-related tests and success in the workplace.
Participants also completed a career assessment inventory administered by an in-house psychologist and go through mock job interviews conducted by probation staff.
Of the 69 people who entered the first phase of the program last year, 42 successfully completed it and were referred for employment, according to the year-end report.
Five government agencies and an equal number of private employers found jobs for 25 of the candidates referred to them. Generally, the jobs involved summer employment of six to eight weeks, but 11 others secured full-time jobs outside the program's partners.
Circuit Judge Valerie Boettle Ceckowski, the presiding judge of juvenile court, said there are benefits beyond the jobs that come out of the program.
"A lot of these kids are dealing for the first time in their lives with the concept of having to get up on time, having to be somewhere on time and in general having to be responsible for themselves," Ceckowski said. "It is really remarkable to see the transition in some of them." And that paycheck money in their pocket, also a first-time experience for many of the youths, is also being directed in the right direction. "We make sure program participants use their money to pay down their court costs and other obligations," Jumisko said. "In juvenile cases, the parents can be held responsible for the debts of the offenders, so we make sure they take their share of the responsibility. Jumisko said the federal grant money behind the program already has been extended for this year and officials are looking for ways to expand it. The money is distributed through the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority.