County Probation highlights programs to help at-risk youth
County probation officials were upbeat Tuesday while presenting a report to the Merced County Board of Supervisors on progress made in the local juvenile justice system.
Every year counties around California are required to provide updates on their juvenile justice programs. It’s part of a system of state funding under the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act, which distributes money to county probation offices who are using proven methods to rehabilitate young offenders.
According to the latest report, the level of juvenile delinquency in Merced County has decreased significant over the past 10 years as the Probation Department has incorporated new programs and services. This was music to the ears of Supervisor Josh Pedrozo who sits on the Probation Department’s Junior Justice Committee.
“As a former teacher dealing with some of these youth, a lot of times we recognize that youth make mistakes and they really do want to get better and be active members of society,” said Supervisor Josh Pedrozo. “They deserve a second chance. They’re young, they make mistakes and they want to learn and move forward. I appreciate the progressive approach that they’re doing over there.”
Pedrozo asked Chief Probation Officer Kalisa Rochester to update the board on Probation activities. She explained that when a young person is detained at Juvenile Hall, they are first assessed to determine their needs and risk for reoffending.
“We tailor a targeted treatment program for each youth, and we provide a variety of educational programs and services,” Rochester told county leaders. “We also host a variety of events for family engagement while youth are in our care at Juvenile Hall. And finally, we coordinate the youth’s release back into the community at least 90 days prior to [the date of release].
Some of these Probation programs involve real world skills, like gardening, cooking, and caring for animals. But some offer vocational training and build skills that help young people find jobs.
Merced County offers a culinary arts program for eligible youth taught by a former local restaurateur, in addition to grant-funded programs that offer certification certificates in logistics, warehousing, construction and solar technology.
Another program, called RISE, offers work experience with participating businesses like Grocery Outlet, Five Ten Bistro, Destino’s, 7-Eleven, Taco Bell, Food 4 Less, and Rancho San Miguel. They can earn up to 200 hours of paid work experience. Probation also has hired a job development training technician who is helping, among other things, to develop a partnership with the local Bitwise Industries on an internship program.
“Right now [businesses] need a lot of help. A lot of businesses out there are short on employees,” said Supervisor Scott Silveira. “So this is an opportunity, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Chief Rochester added that she was “super excited” about the upcoming start of Probation’s “Rise To Higher Grounds Mobile Cart Cafe” that will be staffed by eligible and supervised young people who will serve coffee and goodies to various county departments and the public as well.
The department’s Guardian Scholar Program, along with an academic tutor, helps those young offenders who are studying courses offered by Merced College. There are also evening education courses provided by the Merced County Office of Education.
All this is combined with family-involved paint nights, BBQs, cafe conversations, and community engagement trips to places like the DMV where youth offenders can obtain a photo ID and other services. Eligible youth can also vote from Juvenile Hall and learn about the election process. There’s also a partnership with the City of Merced that provides early intervention services and transitional support through workshops at the Stephen Leonard Park Community Center.
Said Chief Rochester, “I want to publicly thank my staff for all the things they do, working non-traditional hours, taking our youth to various programs in the community, really doing a lot innovative, outside-the-box thinking to make sure that we are providing rehabilitative services to our the kids, and engaging with the public, and letting the public know what we are doing, and getting the public’s involvement. It really does take all of us working together in order to help our young people to be successful.”
$2.7 million for
Dos Palos Library
This week, Merced County learned that it successfully secured an additional $2.7 million to be used toward upgrading the Dos Palos branch of the Merced County Library.
This funding is complimented by another recent award of $3 million in the state’s Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget. That allocation was secured by Senator Anna Caballero, with support from Assemblyman Adam Gray, following a funding request submitted by Merced County. Originally intended for the library, the budget language was updated to allow for the funding to also be used for renovating the Del Hale Hall Community Center, which will neighbor the new library.
The latest funding was secured through the California State Library’s highly-competitive “Building Forward Library Improvement Grant Program.” Merced County’s award of $2,763,093 will be used to relocate the Dos Palos library branch from its current location at the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Almond Street to its planned location at O’Banion Park, next to Del Hale Hall Community Center.
The current Dos Palos library branch was built in 1963 and has major structural and accessibility issues. It is the only library within a 17-mile radius. The new 3,561 square-foot library is “shovel-ready,” and the County hopes to complete construction within two years. It will serve as a location for residents to apply for jobs and benefits, access literacy programs, and learn.
Supervisor Scott Silveira, whose District 5 includes Dos Palos, said both funding awards are the culmination of hard work and perseverance by the County and community as a whole.
“This is a major win for the residents in and around Dos Palos, and they certainly deserve it,” Silveira said. “I’d like to personally thank California State Librarian Greg Lucas for this grant opportunity, as well as Senator Anna Caballero, whose budget allocation will now be used toward renovating Del Hale Hall—another critically-important community facility.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Lloyd Pareira said this funding is part of a larger effort to bring much-needed upgrades to communities throughout Merced County.
“There are several parks, community facilities, and other types of public infrastructure throughout Merced County that are in need of major upgrades,” Pareira said. “While there may not be enough local resources to complete this work in the immediate term, we’ve made a point of fighting for grant funding, are we’re seeing those efforts pay off significantly.”
The renovation of the Del Hale Hall Community Center and replacement of the Dos Palos library branch is part of a larger project that also includes future renovations to O’Banion Park. Merced County is currently exploring options to fund the park renovations.