20 year old program for at-risk youth to end in two weeks

20 year old program for at-risk youth to end in two weeks
Chief Papania says the state should have taken a harder look before cutting AOP funding. (Image Source: WLOX News)
Chief Papania says the state should have taken a harder look before cutting AOP funding. (Image Source: WLOX News)
Without AOP, Judge Alfonso is unsure of what the court will assign for at-risk youth. (Image Source: WLOX News)
Without AOP, Judge Alfonso is unsure of what the court will assign for at-risk youth. (Image Source: WLOX News)

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Adolescent Opportunities Program is what Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso uses as an alternative to sending juveniles to a detention center. She says it has a proven success rate over the last 20 years. Now the state is cutting funding for the program, and without it, she doesn't know what they will do.

"This was the only after school and summer program that I had for children charged with delinquent acts," said Alfonso.

Alfonso said the program served as an intervention. It was the step before sending youth away to a detention center.

"My personal feeling is that it has worked. It has kept kids out of Oakley [youth development center]. It has helped with recidivism. It's been a very effective program. We are losing a proven effective program for our kids," said Alfonso.

AOP provided intensive probationary services for the teens like substance abuse counseling, summer activities, and more.

"If the children were in school they went to the schools to see how they were doing. They were that parent in the afternoon that gave them the extra support," said Cindy Alexander, who is the youth court administrator.

The lack of support and structure for these youth is what concerns Gulfport Chief of Police Leonard Papania. He says they arrest on average 800 kids a year, and it's these types of programs that keep them from getting institutionalized.

"As we as a community continue to look for answers, how can we make our place a better place? Those are the type things that we're looking to do and not to do away with," said Chief Papania.

At this point, there is no real answer on what will be done to offer the same type of services as the Adolescent Opportunities program did for youth. "There's nothing that's going to be able to replace the loss of AOP to our kids," said Alfonso.

Judge Alfonso says she expects the AOP to end by the last day of the month. At this time, they do not know where the students currently in the program will go for their court appointed services.

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