The American juvenile justice system sees tens of thousands of teens go through detention centers or youth homes each year. Unfortunately, studies show that this process does not always equip the teen with the resources necessary to make a better life. Juvenile recidivism rates — referring to the number of minors who get convicted of a crime, serve their time, and then later end up convicted and incarcerated again for another offense are significantly higher than adult rates. The tragic reality is that teens without the guidance and support of caring mentors often return to the life that brought them to the juvenile justice system, trapping them in a vicious cycle.
Youth For Christ’s (YFC, www.yfc.net) Juvenile Justice Ministry is passionate about reaching youth who feel overlooked in the justice system. YFC’s strategy is to come alongside young people on their journey with Jesus while balancing the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of life. YFC leaders and volunteers build relationships that are sustained through ongoing involvement as young people navigate the different pillars encompassing the juvenile justice system.
Justice with a Holistic Approach
YFC Kansas City is approaching juvenile justice with a more holistic approach. In addition to interacting with teens inside the juvenile justice system, staff and volunteers also provide aftercare programs to reduce the chances of a young person reoffending when they get out of the detention center.
“The youth we serve through our Juvenile Justice Ministry consistently ask us to pray for them to have a changed life,” said Executive Director Alex Mathew. “From healing in relationships, to safer communities, to finishing school and getting a job, our teens long for change. The number one prayer request we receive is to get out of juvenile detention and never come back.
“For the past nine years, we have served at local juvenile detention centers through bible studies and Christian book clubs. We have seen kids come to Jesus and grow in their understanding of the Bible. And, through this, God has pressed upon our hearts the need to intentionally engage the youth after they are released so that we can walk with them, share more of Christ with them, and lead them to the transformed lives they desire.
“To accomplish this goal, we are piloting an aftercare program for teens getting out of the juvenile justice system where there will be regular activities, such as bible studies and book clubs, plus fun activities like basketball at the recreational center and community cookouts. Having regular activities that the youth are invited to will help them know how to connect with us when they are released.”