‘I got a lot of future. … I want to do something positive’: RPAL helps keep kids from returning to jail.
on January 4, 2024
At 15, Demaria was arrested for carrying a gun to school and was sent to West County Detention Facility for 10 days.
Tall in stature and brusque in manner, Demaria said he remembers the nights there as lonely.
“The lights were switched off at 10 p.m., and you couldn’t distract yourself with a book or anything else,” he said.
To avoid any chance of returning to juvenile hall, Demaria — whom Richmond Confidential is identifying only by his first name because he is in the juvenile justice system — stays close to home.
“I don’t really chill outside on a daily, it’d be too much stuff going on. I got a niece, I stay at home and play with my niece.” he said.
Following his release from jail, Demaria was assigned to the Richmond Police Activities League Diversion Program, an eight-week course that the nonprofit RPAL runs in partnership with the Police Department. It offers young people who have gotten into trouble with the law an alternative to the justice system.
Since its launch in 2018, the diversion program has served about 50 students, most of them people of color, offering them skills and tools to help them avoid time behind bars. It operated on a budget of $5.3 million in 2022, the organization’s most recent tax return shows.
Some of the courses for older students include job resources, how to dress for an interview and resume readiness. The program also covers topics such as: what should be the content of your social media, and what should your email address be?
Before they graduate, students are expected to decide what they want to do next, such as attend community college, enroll in professional courses, or find other programs that further their personal and professional development.
The diversion program collaborates with other external and RPAL projects such as the Beautiful Minds STEM program for girls and the city’s YouthWORKS program, in what Teyona Galloway, who spearheads the diversion program, refers to as “reaching out to your village.”
Galloway, an ex-police officer, said the goal is to reduce incarceration and recidivism rates, especially among Black and Hispanic boys whose arrest rates are much higher than their white counterparts.
The program’s graduation rate is about 50%, Galloway said, with some students choosing to drop out or being forced to because their families were moving. For those who have stuck with it, the program has been a success, Galloway said, though RPAL could not produce any reports or assessments gauging its effectiveness.
“There have not been any students who have had to repeat the program or gotten arrested again,” she said.
Demaria, who is now 17, said the program has made a huge difference in his life.
“I got a lot of future. I want to do a lot of stuff, like real estate, sports,” he said. “I want to go to college for sure. I want to do something positive.”
Galloway believes the program is successful because it offers young people an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals.
“It’s a kid saying, ‘There are other kids in here, and they’re just like me. I’m not a sore thumb or an oddball. I am just a kid who was trying to navigate through being in a community where sometimes I don’t feel supported,’” she said.
The one thing that worries Galloway is how the age of those getting in trouble is dropping.
A 12-year-old joined the program — the youngests yet to enroll.
Even so, Galloway remains hopeful about the future and is happy to share the story of how young people like Demaria are making different choices in their lives.
“I don’t think we usually get that feel-good story out of this community unless it’s money-driven,” she said. “People need to know that Richmond should not be associated with sad tales.”
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