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School News Network feature: New GRCC Criminal Justice class prepares for helping youth overcome challenges, reach potential

A School News Network feature -- Lynnell Talbert knows the importance of giving youth a voice in the justice system, and the power of being a transformative force and advocate in their lives.

An assistant professor in the GRCC Criminal Justice program, Talbert saw a need to better prepare students for working with incarcerated youth. She created a new Juvenile Residential Services course, which is expected to launch this summer.

The class will be offered as an elective, and Talbert hopes it eventually will be required in the Juvenile Services Associate Degree program. Talbert has taught at GRCC since 2008 and is the college’s juvenile services coordinator.

The focus of the class is working with youth in secure or medium secure residential facilities, a need that is always present. According to the ACLU, on any given day nearly 60,000 youth under age 18 are incarcerated in juvenile jails and prisons in the United States.

 “This class will specifically center around the culture and environment around custodial care. It’s very different being a probation officer versus a youth worker in a detention center or residential facility,” Talbert said.

Areas of study include services for juveniles and the challenges they face. Juveniles in these facilities have been separated from their families and often have a range of mental health and emotional needs.

“Our framework comes from the restorative justice perspective,” Talbert said. Restorative justice focuses on repairing harm caused by criminal behavior over penalization.

Students will also be trained to work through physical challenges by way of effective communication and redirecting youth who have become out of control or irrational.

“When juveniles are placed in our residential facilities, the workers will need to understand the trauma and the mental health aspect of it (on the child).”

There’s a huge demand for youth specialists to work in residential facilities and probation officers, she said. “We are having more and more juveniles at a younger age who are participating in delinquent or criminal behavior. Our residential services centers and our secured facilities are becoming overcrowded and they don’t have enough workers.”

In creating the class, Talbert received input from members on an advisory board for juvenile services, which she facilitates. The course is designed to better equip workers in regard to state guidelines, protocols, behavior modification and training.

Cierra Lowe has worked as a youth specialist at Kent County Detention Center and graduated with her associate degree in juvenile services in 2017. She also pointed out the importance of a reformative approach in juvenile justice.

Lowe said before working at the Kent County Juvenile Detention Center, she did not realize in detail how vital the restorative process is for adolescents. She said she is very pleased to hear GRCC is adding the course.

“I think this course will provide great insight into the need (and) benefits that residential treatment brings to our juvenile adolescents. I think it also will provide great insight into how many career opportunities residential treatment provides.”

During the course, students will visit a medium secure and secure residential facility to tour and ask questions. (Medium secure facilities are not locked, meaning students do things in the community, while secure ones are.)

A Cause Close to Her Heart

Talbert worked for many years in juvenile justice. She was a youth specialist at a residential facility for a detention center in Kent County. She helped children in many ways: school, hygiene and social skill development, to name a few. She developed an incentive system as well, rewarding them for good behavior.

She has also worked as a community probation office for juveniles, and discovered that the two areas of the system have different norms. That’s another reason the class is needed, she said.

“It’s fulfilling for me when I see young people afterwards and they say ‘Thank you, Miss Lynn, for all the work you invested in my life. You put more time in me than my mother, father, my grandmother or anyone in my life, and you told me the potential I had.’”

She is passionate about training GRCC students to have similar impacts. “My job and my goal is to help others become successful, productive citizens in our world, community and society.”

This story was reported by Erin Albanese of the School News Network.