The purpose of the Provo Youth Detention Home is to securely hold and house juveniles who have been arrested for committing a crime until they can be brought before a juvenile court judge for arraignment.
However, the working philosophy at the detention home runs a little deeper than that."Our goal is to teach them a few skills that will benefit their lives and that they can use in the community," said Laurel Curtis, volunteer coordinator at the home.
The skills that staff members try to teach the youth are simple, ranging from from learning to lift weights to playing basketball on a team to completing a ceramic project and making a hackey sack.
Curtis said typically the juveniles haven't had the opportunity or the inclination to participate in such activities. Staff members say providing such experiences may provide the youths with an interest they can pursue in the community.
It is a challenging goal. The length of time staff members have to work with the youth varies considerably; some stay for only a short time - a day perhaps - while others may be there for months, depending on the severity of the crime and number of previous offenses. There are wide disparities in age - youths from 9 to 18 are housed at the detention home. Discipline, deviant and personal problems that land juveniles in the home may hinder the staff's ability to work with them.
But staffers try to compensate for the problems by creating a structured and regimented environment, which provides rewards for good behavior regardless of the length of stay.
Orientation to their new, albeit temporary, environment begins immediately upon arrival, as youths are taken to a room (which, like a jail cell, contains only a cot, a urinal and a sink, and is locked from the outside) and given an orientation booklet about rules and procedures at the home. Within three hours, they are given the opportunity to join any programs that may be in progress at that time.
"Some kids are scared, some are defiant, some are violent, some have been here before and know the program and just fall into it," Curtis said. "There are tears from first offenders . . . but no one wants to be here."
In addition to activity programs and regular school classes, youths participate in a special incentive program at the home, called Honor Level, geared toward establishing and maintaining good behavior. The program allows youths to progress through levels of status and to earn points that can then be exchanged for special privileges, or for items from an in-house store.
One night a month local businesses, such as Little Caesars Pizza, Brick Oven Pizza, Artic Circle and Domino's Pizza, provide a meal for youths who have reached the top or honor level.
"These kids live for those nights," Curtis said. "That is what our lives in the community are like - you work for rewards."
Curtis said a controlled environment, structured programs and the honor level system, combined with treating the kids respectfully, works well at the detention home.
"We really believe there should be rules that they can not break, but also that they should be treated with respect," Curtis said. "We treat them firmly but with respect. There is nothing better than that combination. They know where they stand."