Montgomery County court youth program seen as saving lives

Troubled young people are benefiting from a local court program, advocates said this week, that is limited only by the amount of funding it receives.

Montgomery County’s Learning Independence and Family Empowerment Program (LIFE) this week was recognized for success in reducing repeat offenders.

“This program stops a lot of young people in that pyramid of going upward, in terms of crime,” said Montgomery County Juvenile Court Judge Anthony Capizzi said. “Not only do we stop them from committing crimes when they are 17 or 18, obviously the goal has been, and has shown to be, that we stop them from committing adult crimes.”

From 2006-2013, 1,040 youths have enrolled in LIFE. More than 1,500 youths and families have been served by the program since its inception.

The success is seen in the numbers: 87 percent of youth involved in LIFE had no new felony charges filed against them. Nearly 67 percent were suspended or expelled from school, but 86 percent attended school after treatment.

Barbara Marsh, program director for South Community Inc. — a non-profit corporation that provides behavioral health, substance use and integrated care in Dayton —

said program began in 2005 for girls and started helping males in 2008.

Greg Lyons, 44, of Huber Heights, entered his son Alex into the LIFE program about a year ago. At the time, Greg Lyons said Alex was abusing drugs.

“His (Alex’s) mental health got really bad, some attempted suicides,” Greg said.

Greg said Alex entered LIFE “unwillingly,” and that he called police at one point. Alex was eventually placed with a mentor and a therapist. In May, Alex graduated from drug court and has since secured a job. He will try to get his driver’s license test on Friday, Greg said.

“(LIFE) did what it had to do,” Greg said. “It scared the living crap out of him. We have our son back. The worst thing we ever had to do was have him arrested, but it saved his life.”

the average cost per youth in the program is about $5,000, while the average cost of an Ohio Department of Youth Services (ODYS) placement is about $170,000.

Marsh said the program is funded through the Ohio Behavioral Health Juvenile Justice Program and by grants through the ODYS. She said the program has been supported by the Ohio Governor’s office since 2005. The program is also funded locally through a Montgomery County Human Services levy.

Capizzi said maintaining proper funding for the program will help ensure its future success.

“It’s just always that problem that people don’t understand,” Capizzi said. “You have to spend money to save money. Soft-cost issues are tough to prove, economically, but the reality is, by keeping a child out of prison, we save this county $170,000 a year.”

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