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Opelika's Youth Incarceration Prevention Program is already a big success, and the numbers show it
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Opelika's Youth Incarceration Prevention Program is already a big success, and the numbers show it

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City and community leaders came together to celebrate the success of the Youth Incarceration Prevention Program’s (YIPP) first year at a press conference at the Opelika Police Department Monday morning.

City and community leaders came together to celebrate the success of the Youth Incarceration Prevention Program’s (YIPP) first year at a press conference at the Opelika Police Department Monday morning.

Based on statistics provided by the state, the program in one year has far exceeded its goals.

“It’s another exciting day to be in Opelika, Ala., with the things we’re doing that are going to make a difference long-term,” Opelika City Council President Eddie Smith said. “We’re going to be invested in these young people today because we expect them to be in these rooms in the future doing what we’re doing now.”

The program offers job skills, training, job placement, education, GED completion by partnering with Southern Union State Community College and addresses behavioral health issues, truancy and trouble at school for at-risk juveniles participating in the program.

YIPP Community Coordinator and Opelika Municipal Court Clerk Denise Rogers said she wanted to see none of the program’s participants ever be in another court room in a criminal capacity again and thanked those involved in the program for their help in trying to make that goal a reality.

“What we do not want to see is these young men and women caught up in a system due to bad choices they have made,” Rogers said. “We do not want to see them in and out of jail, and if that is happening at the municipal level, in my opinion, that is a life sentence served in 30-day increments depending on the charge.”

YIPP Program Manager and Pastor Matthew “Skip” Long urged the community to stand together to help the city’s youth and said the goals of the program are to intervene in the lives of youthful offenders in order to reduce the recidivism rate from 57 percent on average per year to 10 percent or below, have at least 70 percent of the offenders move on to the next grade level or graduate, have at least 60 percent obtain job skills training, and reduce the truancy rate to 10 percent or less.

“We need to have the entire community,” Long said. “I appreciate the heart of those in Opelika to see our neighbors, our folks be successful and healthy. Opelika is a city of hope, and all of that revolves around our leadership, starting with our mayor to the chief of police to Jeremy Gray and to all of us playing a small role to make sure those living in Opelika experience success.”

The results in the first year alone have exceeded those expectations.

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Brian Forster, the law enforcement programs supervisor with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, said Opelika’s first year of implementing YIPP saw none of the 120 juveniles enrolled in the program involved in police activity or went before a judge for breaking the law, 97.5 percent of participants are on track to be promoted to the next grade level, no participant had been suspended from school, all participants completed a job course, there were no fights involving YIPP participants in school, the average disciplinary detentions went from 25 a day to zero and the daily average of homework turned in went from 25 percent to 95 percent on time.

“That’s just the first year,” Forster said. “Just those numbers alone tell you that you’re doing something right. … I think it’s a testament to this program, to give these youth an alternative to incarceration, to put something positive in their life.”

The program sprang out of the Opelika Commission on Crime and Violence created by Mayor Gary Fuller in 2018 in order to give youthful offenders more opportunities and education so that they’d be less likely to commit crimes and get tangled up in the judicial system. Since its creation, the commission has been committed to raising funding and overseeing the implementation of YIPP from 2020-2025.

While the program’s first year has had great success, Smith said this past year was only the beginning.

“We can make a small difference while we’re here, but it might be a large difference later on,” Smith said. “Today, those numbers look great, but we can’t stop. The job is not finished, it’s an ongoing thing, and we look forward to the next portion of YIPP.”

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