By Abbey Crank
For the Opelika Observer
With work and dedication, Opelika has made a difference in the lives of teenagers and young adults.
The Youth Incarceration Prevention Program (YIPP) joined together on Monday at 9 a.m. for its first-year success conference. With a hefty goal to reduce the one-year recidivism rate among youth offenders to 10% or less, this is just the beginning.
Right now, there are currently 120 participants ranging from ages 16 to 24 enrolled in YIPP.
City Council President and YIPP Director Eddie Smith said he knew this program could change the future of Opelika for the better.
“We are going to invest in these young people today because we expect them to be in these rooms in the future,” Smith said. “It’s our responsibility to pave the way.”
Along with Opelika, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs provided overwhelmingly positive statistics from 2020-21 programs. Law Enforcement Programs Supervisor Brian Foster shared Opelika’s progress:
“The average disciplinary detentions went from 25 to zero,” Foster said. “… The daily average for homework turned in went from 25% to 95%.”
Along with these statistics, YIPP also had no participants start fights or be suspended from school.
“Just those numbers alone tell you you’re doing something right,” Foster said.
For the rest of 2021, YIPP has four goals it aims to achieve:
1. To be involved in the lives of 80 youth offenders and their families
2. To help 70% of YIPP participants stay in school and graduate
3. Give 60% of the youth offenders real-world training. By the end of the 12-month program, YIPP wants participants to enter well-paying jobs in Lee County
4. Help drop participant truancy rates to 10% of less. From January toJune of this year, there have been no issues with any of the 120 students.
YIPP Program Manager Pastor Matthew “Skip” Long explained if any community can diminish youth incarceration, it would be Opelika.
“There’s a lot of stuff we can disagree upon, but here’s something the city agreed upon: we care about our young folks,” Long said. “We care about the lives of our neighbors.”
Long explained that there are three components to help achieve YIPP’s goals: behavioral health, education and job skills training. With these tools, young adults have the ability to gain independence.
Now, with the help of Opelika Police Chief Shane Healey, YIPP will begin hosting classes within the Lee County Jail and Detention Center.
Free GED program opportunities for youth offenders were made possible with the help of Southern Union State Community College. This way, every participant has the opportunity to earn their high school degree.
YIPP Community Coordinator Denise Rogers explains Opelika Municipal Court’s wishes from this program.
“What we want to see happen with the participants that come in to our court is for them to never be in any other courtroom as it relates to egregious, criminal behavior,” Rogers said. “What we do not want to see is these young men and women hung up in this system because of some bad choices they have made.”
For more information on the Youth Incarceration Prevention Program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.