UCA Partners with the Juvenile court system
The teenage boys eye each other, circling, looking for an opening. Each has been through a lot in his young life, including fights. And each is determined to unleash a flurry from his upraised, clenched fists the first chance he gets.
Unlike the average street fight, this contest is meant to lift the participants up rather than beat someone down. Here at the boxing club run by Neil Rutman, University of Central Arkansas professor of piano and Klipsch Artist-in-Residence, juveniles look to get their lives back on track. The club practices at the Boys & Girls Club of Faulkner County.
“For a lot of these boys, the idea of discipline won’t sink in right now, but it might sink in later,” Rutman said. “The real effectiveness of the program is we bring in college boxers to train with them, to go out for pizza occasionally on a Saturday and let them vent some of their problems.”
Rutman is one of many UCA faculty and staff members who volunteer to help juvenile offenders through an innovative partnership with the Faulkner County juvenile drug court.
Faulkner County Circuit Court Judge Troy Braswell ’02 said an ally in the community such as UCA is a critical component in rehabilitating young offenders. Braswell found willing participants at his alma mater and people eager to help kids sort out the mistakes of the past and prepare them for a better course for the future.
“The old way of running courts and of juvenile justice is outdated,” Braswell said. “We needed to be able to identify not only what happened to bring a kid into court, but why it happened.”
UCA’s volunteer efforts took on many forms. Lisa Ray, program director for UCA’s addiction studies program, organized small peer support groups to help juveniles sort through the root cause of their behavior.
“Every group was different,” Ray said. “We did have some groups where every kid was having trouble with drugs, but we had some other groups where drugs weren’t really the thing, it was other stuff – peer pressure and fighting, anger issues, stuff at home. The personality of the group would determine the direction that we went.”
Other efforts took a more nontraditional approach. Adam Frank, experiential learning coordinator for UCA’s Schedler Honors College, used the power of theater to help young people express their issues and produce positive change.
“We definitely saw these kids gain self-confidence, open up, be willing to take chances and appreciate theater in a way they’d never thought about,” Frank said, “especially in the way that can create actual positive change in the community.”
The partnership is starting to grow beyond serving just drug court to general juvenile offenders and dovetails with other changes Braswell has introduced into his courtroom. His court was a pilot for a comprehensive behavioral and risk assessment that helps him better assign rehabilitation activities based on the juvenile’s needs.
“It’s the difference between the kid that’s got good grades and good family life getting caught smoking a joint after homecoming and the kid that’s failing out and has suicidal ideations that gets caught smoking after homecoming,” Braswell said. “It’s the same event, but for too long we just said they both did the same thing so it should be the same outcome. Well it’s not about punishment; it’s about rehabilitation.
“The kid that’s got the necessary support at home has a better chance for a better outcome than the kid that has all of these other problems,” Braswell said. “We look to identify and understand better what kids need to be successful.”
Back at boxing practice, the boys pair off and perform drills. Rutman, a former collegiate boxer and coach of the UCA team, is not working to create future title contenders. That’s not the point.
“This is an opportunity for the young men to be told they’re important and that we did like them,” Rutman said. “That’s the strength of the program, and they respond immediately to that in a positive way.”