Putting young teenagers in jail for felony offenses gets them off the street for awhile but it doesn’t rehabilitate them. So, in Smith County, Texas they found a better way. It’s called Hope Academy and it’s an alternative to the county lock up. Here kids learn to live and work and they create a positive future for themselves. When you listen to these stories you won’t believe how well it’s working.
Transcription A jail that’s not a jail, but a way out of Jail (S1E10)
David: This is the good government show.
Tammy Carpenter: He started describing growing, reading books, praying. We were watching him change.
Carol: This is one very proud grandmother describing her teenage grandson when he attended Hope Academy. Hello, everyone, I’m Carol D’auria. And in this edition of the podcast of The Good Government Show, we take an up close and very personal look at Hope Academy, which is in Smith County in Tyler, Texas.
David: And I’m Dave Martin. Welcome to the Good Government Show, a podcast dedicated to the good projects that local governments. And on this episode, this county government can dream up to carry out and help make people’s lives better. So I want you to tell me Carol about Hope Academy.
But you know, I have to be honest Hope Academy. This sounds like a place that you know. Oh, yeah, it’s all your, you know, your everything’s going to be great. Everybody gets a trophy, you know? Here you go. Everything’s great, you know, is that how this thing works?
Carol: You are such a cynic. What am I going to do with you?
David: Maybe a little. Maybe a little.
Carol: Hope. Academy is an alternative program for teenage boys who need to just reset their lives. These are kids who have been convicted of a crime, frequently a felony, and traditionally they would have gone right to jail. But Hope Academy gives them another chance. And David, they actually do it with great success.
David: All right. OK. OK. OK. I have an open mind. I’m ready to listen. Tell me more about Hope Academy.
Carol: Oh, I couldn’t have said this better, but Hope Academy is in Tyler, Texas, that Smith County and it’s the eastern part of the state. It’s about four hours from Austin, the state capital. They knew they had to do things differently.
Putting young teenagers in jail? Well, that certainly gets them off the street. But it doesn’t help them get better. They don’t reform in jail. This program has only twelve boys in it. So listen to Ross Worly. He’s the director of Smith’s County Juvenile Services.
Ross Worly: We’re talking ten years ago, but I just took a took a while to bring to fruition. Our state is doing everything they can to take kids out of this. What I guess what we would call the juvenile prison state facility. So when a kid here reaches all the resources we can provide for them and they’ve committed felony offenses, then our judge can commit those kids to what we call juvenile prison or the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. So then the state takes custody and they go to a facility there.
But in the last ten years, they’ve been pushing kids back toward the counties, and our resources have just been limited to where we could put kids in residential settings and the cost have been prohibitive. I mean, we just get so much money to do that.
So we just we just started brainstorming ways that we could. We have a good sized facility with a lot of extra space. Vocational became one of the demographics that we looked at, and when we started studying it, there were three that popped up and it was auto mechanics, welding or metal fabrication and building trades.
We coupled all of that with a whole lot of life skills and mental health treatment and drug treatment. And we came up with the Hope Academy.
David: OK. So can a parent just call up Hope Academy and say, Hey, I’ve got a son who won’t listen to me. I want to enroll him? Can I get him in the program?
Carol: No. It that doesn’t work that way. A boy can only get in if he is court ordered to go. A judge has to sign off on this. Remember, it’s an alternative to jail.
David: But it kind of sounds like, is this really jail?
Carol: Well, yes and no. They can’t go home for lunch. This is a 24/7 program and they are there until they finish, and that could take as much as nine months. A boy really has to meet certain criteria to be in this program and to stay there. And Tim Fauss is the juvenile probation officer, and he knows all the nuts and bolts.
Tim Fauss: Basically, it all starts with a probation officer from, you know, whether from Smith County or any other counties in our region. But it’ll start off with a phone call or email asking if we have space available or what the wait list time is, and we’ll let them know that information.
And then they will send an application along with some mental health records, and we’ll review the records or review some some information in JCMS and and everything. And just kind of decided the kid is a good fit for our program because we do a lot of vocational work, we do a lot of drug treatment, we do a lot of mental health treatment. So we just try to decide if this kid is a good fit for our program and then if we approve them, they’re kind of put on a waiting list and then the judge will court order them into our program as a condition of probation.
We set a intake date and then the probation department will transport them to us and we will get started.
David: OK. So this is a pretty serious program. How bad does a kid have to be to get in?
Carol: Well, Jacob was really pretty bad. He’s 15 years old and he fit the profile of a teenage boy whom they thought they could help his grandmother as Tammy Carpenter, and she admits he really wasn’t doing anything right at all.
His father had died when he was only twelve years old, and his mother, which would be Tammy’s daughter, was left to raise not only Jacob, but his three siblings. And she was really having a tough time.
Tammy Carpenter: He started hanging with the wrong people, smoking weed, taking a few pills here and there. He ended up having a fight with his mother one night the police called. And that’s kind of how we got involved in the system.
And he started living with his grandparents. The father’s his father’s parents and when he was their grandmother, has cancer and grandfather’s. They’re in their seventies are older and they didn’t they weren’t able to probably watch him as close as they could have.
And he would take the keys, steal the car, go out and do things wrong. That he should not be doing would steal money from them.
David: Oh, OK. Well, obviously this is a kid with some serious issues.
Carol: And David, it gets worse. Sadly, his mother was murdered three years after the father’s death.
David: Oh man. How do you? How do you how do you help a kid like that? I mean, he’s got, you know, trouble walking through the front door, and it sounds like he was trouble himself.
Carol: He’s the kind of kid someone say, just lock him up and throw away the key. But Ross Worly, the program director, said that kind of thinking just wasn’t working. They had to embrace a philosophical change.
Ross Worly: That change of philosophy is you still work on, you work on that every day. I mean, it took us a long time to kind of really change the philosophy from just being… to being more rehabilitated. Because it’s easy when you work in a criminal justice setting to be just punitive.
We actually spent about a year or so doing some trainings we call fire training that dealt with this change of philosophy. And just to kind of prepare people for what we were about to do and we required every staff and we have almost 100 staff here and we required all of them to go through this fire training. Fire training stood for fusion, inspiration, restoration and education. And it was just a different kind of setting just to really get the wheels rolling on this change of philosophy.
David: OK. So in practical terms, you know, what does this really mean if you don’t put a kid in jail, you know, what do you do with them? Is it just, you know, like talking to him and making him feel better?
And, you know, saying it’s not his fault? I mean, you know, I’m not a psychologist. I don’t even play one. But what does this really mean?
Carol: There really are lots of nuts and bolts to this program, and they’re very clear on what the rules are. And that’s where David Peters comes in. He supervises this program. He’s in charge of the whole thing.
David Peters: We have our kids out in our vocational shop three hours a day, five days a week. We teach auto mechanics, welding instruction, construction, horticulture. We do ten hour OSCA Safety certification then end with life skills. We do first aid, CPR, food handling certification. We’re typically a six to nine month program the kids are on a point system. So they earn points to be able to apply to graduate out of the program, so that the better they do. They can get out as soon as six months or they could drag out as long as nine months.
David: So this point system thing, does this really work? I mean, do these kids really respond to, you know, a point system?
Carol: Yeah. Don’t you remember David, when we were in school many moons ago, you wanted to get that gold star?
David: Oh yes! The gold star.
Carol: Right? And if it wasn’t quite up to gold standard, you got maybe a green star or a red star.
David: Gold star, you got a gold star on your homework. You are. You were looking good for the day.
Carol: Well, this is same thing with the points. The number of points you get will determine the privileges you receive or whether there’s some sort of a consequence you have to pay. So the points are really important.
David: So the points that they’re gold stars?
Carol: Right. So now you have to listen to one very proud grandmother.
Tammy Carpenter: While he was in here, he made he was so proud of himself. He made a barbecue grill out of a propane tank. He welded it, cut it, painted it. They put the little grill, part, the little part that you grill the meat on the little rack in there, painted a star on it and had a smokestack.
He did that while he was in here. He got his welding permit. He got his food handler’s permit. He finished CPR. He came out of here with all of these certificates that he can use and apply in his life when he gets jobs.
David: Wait a minute. OK. You have been holding back on me. So Texas barbecue, this kid made a Texas barbecue?
Carol: I love barbecue.
David: No, no you’re a rank amateur when it comes to barbecue.
Carol: I like the meat when it falls off the bone.
David: Well, that’s how you have to do it, because it’s a slow cook, slow cook at a good barbecue grill. So this kid’s making barbecue. So by the way, next time there’s a story in Texas, I’m going.
Carol: Oh, I’m going to fight you for it.
David: No, no, no, no. I think I think we’re talking Barbecue Texas. I think we’re talking Dave. So. Wow, this is that’s pretty impressive.
Carol: And it doesn’t happen by magic. You know, snap your fingers and kids get better. Jacob really worked hard at this and Tim for us, the probation officer really explains how he did it.
Tim Fauss: Well, the message is pretty much do the right thing even when nobody’s looking. You know, when the kids first start out the program, you know, they don’t want to be there. Of course, many of them understand that they did something to wind up there, but they don’t really want to be there.
So the first month or so, we kind of call it phase one is an adjustment period to try to get them on board, get them ready to change. And we hit them hard. You know, we we start right off the bat when you get in trouble. There’s consequences and the consequences can be pretty tough. So we’re pretty hard on them for that first month to get ’em on board. And then so the message is, do the right thing, follow the rules and a lot of kids, they just try to do the bare minimum just to get out.
And that doesn’t really work with us. So we kind of teach them if you just do the right thing and you do what you’re supposed to do, take care of your business. The points just come automatically. OK, you won’t even be worried about points because you’re earning them.
It’s when kids are constantly worried about their points. And if I do this, how many points do I lose that? That that is when is when there’s there’s there’s some issues. OK, so we just make sure to hold it, hold them accountable for their actions, and it takes about a month for them to get on board.
And then after that, they typically start to take things very seriously and they want to change and they want to they have goals. That’s important. Having goals is extremely important, not just goals. We have daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals and, you know, five year goals, you know, long term goals, things like that.
So when a kid is working towards achieving something, it’s when we typically start seeing them, you know, be more on on board with what we’re trying to teach them.
David: Do the right thing. That’s certainly the easy thing to say and a great philosophy. But really, that’s not quite as simple as it sounds, is it?
Carol: No, not at all. Trying to get a kid to do a 180. And while these kids are living in Hope Academy, here’s the tough part. Remember, life on the outside continues. So remember I said that Jacob’s mother was murdered.
Well, that actually happened while he was only halfway through the program. But listen to his grandmother, Tammy explained. How they dealt with that.
Tammy Carpenter: And I thought, Oh my gosh, how in the world? And I’m going to go to this program that he’s doing well in and tell him that this has happened. And what’s it going to do to him? Is he going to have a setback?
It terrified us. But on the 29th, the day after we found out, we called the Hope program, and I want to say that every one the probation officers, the directors, the counselors, the drug, they’ve been nothing but excellent to Jacob, to our family.
David: So how did Jacob handle the news?
Carol: Well. For starters, he didn’t act out and he was really surrounded, you know, as the grandmother said. He was surrounded by people who really cared about him and they were there to catch him, so to speak, and walk him through this tragedy. So it’s a it’s a total program.
Tammy Carpenter: It was so sad. But there is a life coach here and and his probation officer and that he respected so much the whole time he was in here and they were more than just. I mean, they were friends to him. They they cared deeply about him, they made him feel like he was a person, not just a number, not just a kid that got in trouble. You know, they told him they helped him realize I’m smart. I can do anything that I set my mind to.
He got to be friends with the judge. Here that when they would do projects and stuff, the judge would be present, and Jake had really respected and liked him, and he just he started just thriving, growing, reading books, praying, to opening up with the counselors more.
We were watching him change every time we would come in here to visit him. It was like he was becoming a different person.
David: Well, that is really an incredible turnaround. That’s almost hard to believe.
Carol: David, it happens and it really is like what happens in long term drug treatment programs. You put the time in and they’re frequently 24-7 and you just really work at it and you have to start to think differently.
Tammy Carpenter: Me calling and reporting him, him getting put with the people that are in here, the people caring so much. That Jake… Jacob’s changed when he got home to his siblings after he got out of here. They’ve all said, you know, that’s the brother we had before all this happened, that’s the brother we loved and respected that before he got in here, nobody really liked him. It was hard to be around him. He was a smart aleck. He thought he he was almost like a thug acting the way he dressed, the way he carried himself. The cursing, it was awful.
And now, he, if somebody slips up, he corrects you. He doesn’t want any of them to put anything in their body that’s harmful. He is going to his drug counseling. You know, he’s changed the friends that he hangs out with. I mean, everything about him since he went through this program is has changed.
David: And the sponsor of the Good Government podcast is Liquid.
Carol: We love liquid and not just because they are our sponsors.
David: That’s why we love Liquid, because they’re a sponsor. But OK, so this is the true story. Do you know why they’re called liquid?
Carol: No. Why?
David: Well, it’s because early on, see, they had all these customers and one of their first customers called up and they’d done a really great job. And they said, Hey, guess what? We’re liquid.
David: It’s true. Yeah, yeah. So they were now they were making money because they were liquid. So all of these people, you know, that weren’t doing well now they had liquid on board. They were liquid. They were making money. So if you go with Liquid, you’ll be liquid to go. Make more money.
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But the family had trouble talking about their products. Liquid helped them show the way to get their message across. And now they have an Award-Winning website thanks to Liquid and, you know, more money.
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David: And they help make them liquid. So that’s why we love Liquid. It’s a company they make digital work, so check them out on the World Wide Web at liquid INT dot com. That’s Liquid INT dot com.
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All right, so we have some really great stories here, but what we also have is we’ve got a full time facility for twelve boys. They eat there, they sleep there, they work there, they take classes, they’re they’re engaged, they’re this is a full time facility. It has to be expensive. This has to cost the county a lot of money.
Carol: Well, and it does, but not quite as much as you think. In fact, Hope Academy has such a good reputation with this program that other counties send their kids to the academy. Here’s the director Ross Worly again.
Ross Worly: We actually did not expand any more money when we started this staff was than what we already had on the books, so it didn’t actually cost the taxpayers a dime for us to open this facility. So we just did some reassignment and staff of existing staff positions. To send kids here it’s costing them upwards of $150 a day to send kids here, and that doesn’t pay our expenses. It all are our expenses. So it’s quite a it’s quite an expensive endeavor. So the fact that we didn’t cost any more to start this up and we’re able to bring revenue in at $150 a day definitely is, you know, it’s a win win for us.
David: This is in program already, so that makes it cost effective. They’ve got their gold star points that seems to be working, and you can make your own barbecue grill in this program and learn to be a welder. It sounds like it’s working well, but is it working and is Jacob staying out of trouble? And are these kids pretty much staying out of trouble?
Carol: Well, you know what? In the case of Jacob, his grandmother says that he has a plan now he’s out of the program, and he’s carrying on his life day to day. Listen to that.
Tammy Carpenter: He started back to school August 16 at Legacy High School in Tyler. He is in ninth grade, so he’s a freshman. He has a full load. He goes from he has to be there like at 8:30 and he gets out at four and he goes immediately to his job, at Sola Bread here in Tyler.
It’s a restaurant, pizza and pastries and all kinds of food like that. Sandwiches. And they hired him and he he works as much as you can for a 15 year old. You know, he goes after school at 4:30 and usually gets home that gets off at 7:45.
Then on the weekend, he works till nine and the restaurant’s closed on Sundays, which I love. He goes to church now.
Carol: How about that?
David: That is impressive. A teenager, he goes to school full time, probably a little bit older than the other kids, but he’s still in school. That’s great. And he’s going to church and he’s holding down a job that’s pretty good.
Carol: And you know what? The recidivism rate is only about 10%. Only 10% of the kids regress and commit another crime. And the probation officer can check up on them to Tim Fauss said. Sometimes if a parent or maybe a grandparent calls and said, Hey, this kid is going off the rails, he meets with the kid.
He spends time with the teenager and he says frequently, that’s all it takes to get a kid going again.
David: You know, Carol, this sounds a little similar to a story we did much earlier. The three R’s, the program in Reading, Pennsylvania. You remember that.
Carol: I do remember that. Sure.
David: So in that program, they took inmates who were in jail. They took them out and they put him into a construction training program that, among other things, had them building houses for Habitat for Humanity. The challenge was getting people out of a criminal mindset in the three R’s of their hardest job was retraining those people to think differently, like getting them to work on time, bring your lunch to work, stuff like that.
Carol: Right? And they also had to learn as we all have had to learn that you have to pay a consequence when you don’t follow through and do the right thing.
David: It’s those points of those gold stars.
Carol: Exactly, and here at Hope Academy, they risk losing points or staying longer in the program. Some can get out in as little as six months. Some have to stay more like nine months.
David: So they really want those gold star points, don’t they?
Carol: Absolutely. The gold stars work. And as with many programs, you have to surround yourself once you get out and start living your life. You have to surround yourself with different people. You can’t go back to the old gang and all the people in Reading and the folks at Tyler. They also have to want to change.
David: That’s a very good point. Yes. But the other takeaway here for me, the other takeaway from all this is that here we have two different counties, two different governments coming up with different but equally good solutions to the same problem that’s getting people out of jail and back into the community. And that’s good government and action.
Carol: Absolutely. And that is a story of Hope Academy, yet another example of a government that steps in to fix a problem. And they really get it right. I’m Carol D’auria.
David: And I’m David Martin. Thanks for listening to this episode of The Good Government podcast. We’ll see you next time on Good Government show.
The Good Government Show is a Valley Park Production, Jason Stershic is our editor and producer. Associate producers are Jade Ludlow and Mackenzie Martin, the executive producers of The Good Government Show are Jim Ludlow, David Martin and David Snyder. Join us again right here for another episode of The Good Government Show.ht here for another episode of The Good Government Show.