MCALLEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A new program in Hidalgo County is helping juvenile offenders transition back to their communities.
Southwest Keys and juvenile justice officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Building in McAllen to mark the occasion.
The program is called Un Puente Al Hogar, or A Bridge Home.
It was designed to help recently released offenders develop important life skills.
Officials say the number of juveniles who re-offend after their release is very high. They said this program was meant to offer guidance and ease the transition between incarceration and home life.
“This is something that will help them to transition, kind of ease coming home, and help them work on goals,” Maryann Denner, Director and Chief Juvenile Probation Officer for Hidalgo County said.
Denner said recently released juveniles often don’t know what resources might be available, or even where to start looking.
Two months before they’re released, juvenile detainees start meeting virtually with program staff.
After they’re released, and sent back home, they’re involved with the program for another four months.
Denner said during that time, the participants developed important life skills.
“Career needs. Educational needs. Resource needs. Whatever it is to help them acclimate back into the community,” Denner said.
Dawn Villarreal, Clinical Program Director for Un Puente Al Hogar, said she doesn’t want to give up on the kids that enter the program.
“We don’t want to see these youth as somebody who have reached their limits already. A lot of these youth, they range from 10 to 17 years of age, so we really want to open that opportunity up to them,” Villarreal said.
Villarreal introduced the same program in Cameron County last year.
She said it had been a great success, seeing an increase in participants finding work and a reduction in re-offending.
Villarreal said she believes this version could see similar success.
“Reduce recidivism. But get them back into the community. Enhance and increase the number of resources they have available in this community. And I think it’s going to impact, not just the program itself, but Hidalgo County as a whole,” Villarreal said.