During a site visit to the Chatham Youth Development Center in Siler City, NC, OJJDP Administrator Liz Ryan spent a lively morning helping judge a youth debate about North Carolina’s Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act—legislation better known as “Raise the Age.” Enacted in 2019, the law ended the state’s practice of automatically charging all 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, regardless of their alleged crimes.
Debate requires analysis, quick thinking, and persuasive argument. Three teams faced off that Friday morning, arguing for and against the law, and citing relevant data and judicial decisions. The youth had been told the topic a few days earlier and spent the week researching it—but did not know which side they would argue until just before the debate. A representative from the North Carolina Governor’s Office likened the teams’ performances to debates in the state legislature. Several officials joined Administrator Ryan for the visit, including Deputy Secretary of Juvenile Justice William Lassiter and Sandra Hairston, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina.
Debate is one of several activities offered to young people housed at Chatham Youth Development Center. Later in the visit, Administrator Ryan joined youth for a reentry simulation in “McDougaldville,” a fictional town set up in Chatham’s gymnasium. The exercise required them to manage personal budgets using financial literacy skills they learned while in detention.
“We made a conscious decision to visit the youth development center during Second Chance Month—April—to learn more about programs that have been successful in serving youth as they leave confinement,” Administrator Ryan says. “OJJDP grantees submit performance reports for their programs, to demonstrate progress. In-person site visits bring performance reports to life.”
In the afternoon, Administrator Ryan attended a roundtable session with representatives from Reentry to Resilience (R2R), an OJJDP-supported program. R2R serves young people as they transition from North Carolina’s youth development centers to their home communities, working to anticipate and address obstacles that can derail success. The state’s Division of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention collaborated with Communities in Schools of North Carolina to launch R2R in mid-2017, using funding from OJJDP’s Second Chance Act Youth Reentry program. R2R’s design is informed by findings from a Research Triangle Institute (RTI) study into youth experiences during reentry.
R2R pairs young people with “youth success coaches.” Initial meetings take place early in the youth’s detention, to identify and begin to address the young person’s unique needs—enrolling them in school or job training, for example, or connecting them with mentors, mental health therapists, or other healthcare providers. Meetings continue throughout the youth’s confinement, ensuring that important supports are in place for reentry—a time that can feel hopeful, but also overwhelming. Coaches meet with youth for another year after discharge, offering support and helping to troubleshoot barriers.
R2R currently operates eight sites across North Carolina; OJJDP funds four of them. During Administrator Ryan’s visit, RTI researchers discussed performance data for the OJJDP-funded sites in Edgecombe, Nash, Wilson, and Mecklenburg Counties. These data offer a snapshot of R2R’s impact between July 2021 and December 2022, according to RTI Research Scientist Debbie Dawes. During that time, the 4 sites served 29 young people inside youth development centers and 11 in their home communities. Of the 11 served in their communities, 9 were enrolled in school and 6 were employed; none had been recommitted to a youth development center. Three of the 11 faced new charges—2 as juveniles and 1 in the adult criminal justice system.
“Meeting with R2R gave us a glimpse into how one OJJDP grantee is working effectively with young people to nurture their success,” Administrator Ryan says. “The R2R experience is proof that—with caring support and access to the training and services they need—youth can and do create fulfilling lives after they leave detention.”