I’m a Norteño (He is allegedly the highest-ranking Norteño in the Colorado system). The crucifixes mean a lot to me. Yes I believe in God, but… does God believe in me?

Yea, I am not very big. Five foot and 105. My whole family is very religious. The black and white crosses– they may be plastic but they mean a lot. I wear them all the time.  My whole family visits me here, Mother, Father, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Brothers. No big deal, my whole family is in the gang and in the system. Yeah, there is no stigma to my being here. I don’t have much here. I have my faith and my plants. I like trying to get my plants to grow.

-B.D, age 18

Lookout Mountain Youth Services Center in Golden, Colorado has been singled out by many across the country as a model for success. This is the institution for the highest risk and highest needs kids who need the highest level of service. They try to bring a limited number of juveniles here, only the most difficult. The others, Colorado tries to keep within services in the community. The overarching thought here is: “detention is not a location-it’s a status.” Kids don’t need to be here, they need to be answerable to the justice system and the courts and act somewhat responsibly during that interval– that’s detention.

At the time of my visit, the population was 154 juveniles maximum, with a max capacity of 160. The average age is 18 years old. 85% of the kids are on psychotropic meds and many have severe mental issues. A lot of work done at Lookout Mountain involves therapy and learning to be vulnerable. Some kids would rather go to an adult prison than deal with vulnerable issues in public; some of the kids are so freaked by being here that they do anything and everything to get out. Some of the kids are so hardened they will not be touched, while some kids can be paroled with prejudice. They have served their time, but there are not adequate services out there to assist them and prevent them from being a problem to society or themselves. They will not succeed. Sentences range from mandatory (rare) to non-mandatory zero to twos. They are the majority and get constant evaluation. Lookout Mountain does well with “Aggrevateds” (juveniles who have attempted murder, assault, etc.). Sometime kids get 3,5,7 mandatory, sometimes it can be for things like vehicular homicide. The chances for success are better here.

Five key strategies of the program include:

  1. Providing the right services at the right time
  2. Delivered by quality staff
  3. Using proven practices
  4. In safe environments
  5. Embracing restorative community justice principles
click here to view more images from Lookout Mountain

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