Second Chance for Incarcerated Youth

By Dianne Frazee-Walker

The first time Jeanette Holtham, Founder and President of The Youth Transformation Center visited a youth prison she was scared to death.  Image courtesy of youthtransformationcenter.org

Holtham is a petite red head with a serene composure, but her aspirations are much larger.  She is no longer intimidated by rough looking teens masked with baleful tattoos, multiple piercings, and an array of trinkets hanging from every body part. Holtham knows there are incredible young people hidden behind the masquerading attire.  

Holtham is appalled at the 30-50% drop out rate of juveniles ages 12-17 in Colorado, and the 62,000 that are suspended. She is on a mission to salvage the lives of these young people.  Holtham is collaborating with Colorado school districts and the Department of Youth Corrections to make this happen.  

Holtham is one of the pioneers of a growing global phenomenon called restorative justice, which is a set of principles used to hold offenders accountable for the harm he or she has caused,  provide victims with a voice about how the criminal action has affected them, and how the damage should be repaired .

Holtham brings her polished facilitating skills to juvenile prisons and bravely uncovers the world of young offenders. By the end of her intensive three day Boomerang workshop they are transformed into productive citizens.

Most incarcerated juveniles are filled with horrendous stories that young people should never experience. Using humor as an ice-breaker is Holtham’s opening course of action for building trust with the juveniles. It doesn’t take long before the unfamiliar sound of laughter is echoing through the halls of the facility. 

Once Holtham gains the trust of the teens she is able to bring awareness about how poor choices landed them in prison.

By the first day of the workshop the teens are inspired to create dreams, goals, and plans for their lives.  

By the second day of the workshop the teens are ready to share painful stories. Many of these young people have witnessed horrific events that children should never experience.

By the third day of the workshop the juveniles are ready to be accountable for the behavior that landed them in prison and face their victims.

Restorative justice entails offenders taking part in creating an agreement about actions they will take to repair the harm. Victims have an opportunity to have a voice by telling their story, relating how the crime has impacted their lives. The transformation takes place when offenders understand how their offenses affect their victims.

Restorative Justice is a more effective solution to crime than locking juvenile offenders up or suspending them from school. The workshop is named Boomerang because the principles of restorative justice allow for a second chance.