In an age where more states are giving harsher sentences for juvenile crime, one juvenile detention center in Clinton, Mich. seeks to give young men another chance.

Paul Wong
The teenagers accept having to go to the bathroom together. (David Katz, Daily Photo Editor)
Paul Wong
Religion is also important to many of the young men. (David Katz, Daily Photo Editor)
Paul Wong
Walking through the cafeteria line at dinner time. (David Katz, Daily Photo Editor)

Two years ago, juveniles accounted for 17 percent of all arrests made in the United States. Post-Columbine, there is less sympathy than ever for juvenile crime in this country. In the state of Washington, an 8-year-old can be sentenced to life in prison and in some southern states, minors as young as 15 can face the death penalty. But Boysville, a national Catholic-oriented non-profit correctional facility with over a dozen campuses in Michigan alone, seeks to help court-referred juveniles headed for disaster by turning them in the right direction. In a recent visit to the Clinton campus, The Michigan Daily was able to observe Boysville’s unique approach to solving a national problem – a philosophy that proves successful for 85 percent of the minors it touches.

“Children today face many unsettling and complex problems”

For the most part, the Brothers of the Holy Cross, who run the Clinton campus, have a sympathetic view for the 143 boys ages 12-17 currently detained there.

“Kids are coming from a home environment where they’re not getting the support they need,” Boysville Communications Director David Jablonski said.

Originally established as a Catholic orphanage in 1948, Boysville has grown immensely during the past 54 years into a haven for boys abandoned by society. In the late ’60s, it started taking court referred cases of troubled juveniles. Today, most of these juveniles come from homes who are in the lower third economic range of the state. Approximately 50 percent of them are white, 40 percent black and the other 10 percent are a mix of other minorities. Many of these kids come from families with only one parent, or families in which they are being watched over by grandparents or other guardians.

“When I use the word family, I use it loosely,” Brother Chester Freel, director of the Clinton campus said. “We’re also unique in how we put it together with family work and with our particular approach as to trying to use values as the key instrument in what we’re teaching.”

The Clinton campus is classified as middle risk, meaning the teenagers sent there have committed crimes ranging from property offenses to stealing cars. But, Freel, who has been working at Boysville since 1970, says the problems with these crimes do not start with the minors who commit them.

“It’s because of the community and family environment that they come from,” Freel said.

Freel also acknowledges that the type of juveniles coming to Boysville has changed over the last 10 years. There tends to be an increase in more youth coming from single parent families as well as families troubled with substance abuse. He also said the youth coming are tougher because of more early intervention programs.

“Just by the fact that they haven’t made it, they’re the troubled youth,” Freel said.

The teenagers sent there are reluctant to talk about the offenses they committed. When asked why he has been at Boysville for almost two years, 17-year-old Tim mumbles words several times until one can decipher that he once exposed his genitals to a young girl. Fifteen-year-old Andrew will only acknowledge that he hurt a lot of people and destroyed many things. However, he is proud of his supportive family, which includes a grandfather, mother, four brothers and four sisters. He wants to make sure his siblings do not follow the same path he did. “I try to keep them on track in school,” Andrew said.

“Help is a hand when you’re drowning”

T he life of a resident at Boysville revolves around a group of 12 or 13 kids in conjunction with seven staffers who work with the group. The groups attend classes and group therapy together, spend their free time with each other and sleep in the same dormitory. If a group member is not concentrating on his schoolwork, got a bad call from home or any other problems, it is the responsibility of his other peers in the group to help him out.

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