In 2017, County Court Judge Staci O’Neal sought a way to solve the “school to prison” pipeline in Madison County. Assigned to juvenile courts, Judge O’Neal witnessed numerous teenagers entering youth court who had already dropped out of school or had little chance of completing a high school education. The lack of options to assist these students had become a problem.
Currently, 49% of youth on probation in Madison County are failing school and are below their grade level. Ten percent of those on probation have already dropped out of school. We make no determination as to which came first – educational failure or behavioral failure. However, we are hopeful that by redirecting youth towards the workforce while they are under the jurisdiction of the Youth Court, we can assist in minimizing the percentage of those who would otherwise end up in adult incarceration and subsequently increase the rate of youth contributing to our community’s workforce.
Madison County Jobs4Youth is a 4-phase program ordered during the disposition of youth court hearings. Phase 1 consists of daily attendance in a small classroom and one-on-one setting to obtain the student’s GED. In Phase 2, students complete the Smart Start course while preparing and receiving the National Career Readiness Certificate. During phase 3, students are placed in paid job internships with local business partners that give them workplace experience while saving money for post-program education. Phase 4 is a one-year relationship designed to continue to provide needed support for students after leaving our daily program.
The Jobs4Youth program has given students second chances in otherwise hopeless situations for the last four years. With supportive partners such as the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District, Holmes Community College, Skill Mississippi, and many others, we hope to continue serving the youth of Madison County for years to come.