Life-changing power over recidivism

Faith in Focus

Recidivism - That is the new word I have been working on these days. I've been learning to spell it, pronounce it and even use it in a sentence.

In the field of juvenile justice, it essentially means to return to commit more crimes. At Son Village, a Christian-based adolescent residential treatment program in the Sandy/mountain area where I work, recidivism is a dirty word. It means we failed when one of our boys goes back to his old life and commits further crimes. This is altogether compounded if they enter the adult system. Therefore, our job is to reduce recidivism.

As a matter of fact, that is our mandate from the state since Senate Bill 1 was passed. As a taxpayer in this state, I am pleased about that. It means our state is serious about reducing juvenile crime, and they don't want to pay for services that don't have that desired outcome. Fair enough.

So how can my staff have an effect on a young man's life and even help him to truly change his behavior? And will that carry over to real life when there is no longer the same level of support and structure surrounding that young person? How can we help our residents internalize rules, understand the need for accountability and structure, learn to self-regulate and practice successful coping skills?

I've just returned from seeing one of our young men get baptized (the third to be baptized in the past month). Two more residents are scheduled for next month. These same residents are asking me for Bibles, attending church, youth group and Bible studies, praying for one another and are even going to be taking part in an Easter play - both services. OK, they're playing the Roman soldiers that crucify Christ, but they'll be great.

Now I'm not naïve enough to think that this is an automatic fix-all in these boys' lives or that they won't continue to struggle with sin and temptations. I realize, too, that for some this may be an emotional response and that the 'spiritual roots' may not go as deep as I'd like. But I am happy to see that these seeds are watered and nurtured toward maturity.

The New Testament tells us 'anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!' And it instructs these boys, 'Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.'

At this morning's baptism, I heard that young man explain to the entire congregation what God had been doing in his life, and when I saw him coming up out of the water, transformation was happening before my eyes. I am confident that this will translate into reduced recidivism for Oregon and a new life for this young believer in Christ. What a savior!

Dan Rogers is the director of Son Village, a home for troubled young men.