Ohio Seeks to Cut Youth Recidivism

About 1,700 young people, ages 12 to 21, are held in the custody of Ohio’s Department of Youth Services each year. Officials say many will be returned to confinement within a few years. The agency’s director hopes to cut recidivism by implementing new measures – which include recruiting community volunteers to help with literacy and job training.

Records at Ohio’s Youth Services department say that about 30% of former youth in state custody will be returned to the department – or to the adult prison system – within a year of their release. In three years, 50% will again be in custody. The department’s director, Tom Stickrath, says there are a number of contributing factors.

“On average they read about four to five grades lower than their chronological age,” says Stickrath. “A high percentage suffer with mental illness. A high percentage have been victims themselves; many have been assaulted prior to coming through the court system. And on top of that a high percentage have substance abuse problems.” Now, Stickrath says, the department will re-focus its efforts on better preparing those in custody for life on the outside – so that they won’t be incarcerated again. That means upgrading their reading abilities, and better preparing them to hold jobs. Stickrath says staff will begin planning for a young person’s release when he or she first arrives in state custody.

“Each youth, when they arrive at one of our facilities, will be focused on reentry and they will have an individualized reentry plan. We are looking toward greatly expanding mentors involved with our youth. We’re also helping our older youth find job opportunities.”

Stickrath says Youth Services will begin to recruit volunteers from the community who want to work with young people. He says the department has received $15 million in federal grants to help with literacy training and job improvement skills. One of the grants – $14 million from the U.S. Department of Education – is the largest grant in Youth Services history.