SBCS will continue leading the Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program in all county regions with a $3.5 million grant from the County of San Diego. The ATD Program serves juvenile offenders who have been arrested and charged, and who could be detained because of a lack of alternatives, even though they pose low-flight risk or potential danger to the community, and seeks to reduce juvenile delinquency, improve family engagement, strengthen family support, improve the juvenile justice system’s efficacy, and reduce racial and ethnic disparities. In addition to these goals, the CHOICE Program works to increase overall positive youth development, thereby reducing probation violations and youth in detention.
ATD got its start in January of 2012 when South Bay Community Services (SBCS) pioneered the program as a successful pilot project in the South and Central regions of the county in partnership with the Department of Probation, law enforcement agencies, Juvenile Court, the District Attorney’s office, Public Defenders, SAY San Diego (SAY), and San Diego Youth Services (SDYS).
The program initially served 100 youth annually in each of the 2 regions, and achieved impressive results, with 90% remaining arrest-free while in services and 85% remaining arrest-free 6 months after case closure. Based on the pilot program’s success, the project partners, led by the Department of Probation, applied for and were awarded a 3-year Byrne JAG grant to expand and institutionalize the ATD program throughout San Diego County. The ATD Program has been attributed to the closure of a San Diego area juvenile ranch facility.
Beginning in March of 2015, the grant was passed through to SBCS, who administered the countywide program that then served 500 youth annually. In 2018, the County of San Diego Juvenile Probation Department sustained funding for SBCS to continue ATD programming county-wide and increased the minimum number to be served to 750.
In 2018, SBCS’ ATD program served 829 youth—637 of whom were new enrollments and 192 were carryover youth from 2017 admissions—and 95% of the cases closed successfully without any new sustained petitions while in the program.
Many of the youth served by our ATD program come from single-parent homes in urban, high poverty, and high crime neighborhoods. Their family lives are often chaotic, impacted by immigration, substance abuse, and domestic violence issues. It is common to find that the youth have multiple siblings from different fathers, a single mother who either works multiple jobs or is unemployed, and/or an absentee/incarcerated/deported father. The youth often have high rates of truancy, poor or failing grades, negative peer associations, little to no pro-social activities or interests, and a lack of positive adult male role models. Many of the families have histories of parental involvement in the justice and/or child welfare systems. Many of these system-involved youth also suffer from significant mental health issues. Other risk factors can include a violent home environment, problems in school, a violent relationship, parents in extreme poverty who work multiple jobs and have little time or resources to attend to the children, a history of running away from home, and/or substance abuse, among many possibilities.
The success of the ATD program can be attributed to many years of experience working with youth as well as strong partnerships. SBCS is intimately aware of how to deliver effective, trauma-informed, family-centered ATD services. With SBCS’ consistently successful outcome rates, we know that we can significantly increase youths’ chances of bettering their lives through contact with participation in our program.