Copyright 1994 Bergen Record Corp.
A SCHOOL THAT GETS MORE FOR LESSBy CHRISTOPHER KILBOURNE
Sam Ferrainola says that one thing above all else separates Pennsylvania's Glen Mills Schools from their closest counterpart in New Jersey, the Training School for Boys near Jamesburg.
"We send our kids to Penn State," said Ferrainola, Glen Mills' executive director. "They send their kids to the state pen."
Although an obvious exaggeration, the statement is not just empty boasting and self-promotion. In 18 years as executive director of Glen Mills, Ferrainola has seen more than 180 of his students go directly on to college, including 44 on athletic scholarships.
That is no mean feat considering that the school's students have been convicted of crimes up to and including drug dealing, armed robbery, aggravated assault, and even murder.
Two hours away in Harrisburg, Pa., Daniel Elby has achieved impressive results at Alternative Rehabilitative Communities, an award-winning network of small, community-based facilities of the sort touted by experts as the wave of the future in juvenile justice.
Both of the private, non-profit programs are products of a state system that has shifted the bulk of the responsibility for juvenile rehabilitation into the private sector while retaining just over 600 state-run beds for its most serious young offenders.
The "unique blend," as it is described by one Pennsylvania official, has developed into a nationally acclaimed and cost-effective system that offers a wider array of programs capable of adapting to the changing problems and needs of the state's juvenile offenders.
Pennsylvania's system represents the road not taken by New Jersey officials. In the early 1970s, policy-makers in both states recognized that most juvenile offenders would be better served by separating them from chronic and violent delinquents in large institutions, and placing them in a variety of smaller programs designed to address specific needs, such as emotional or learning disorders.
But where New Jersey tried to achieve that goal mainly through state-run programs, Pennsylvania called on the ingenuity and competitive drive of the private sector. Today, more than 75 percent of Pennsylvania's delinquents who are placed outside their homes are sent to privately run programs, compared with less than 10 percent in New Jersey.
Judges decide where Pennsylvania delinquents serve their sentences. In New Jersey, a judge can recommend a particular facility, but the final decision is made by a classification panel composed of administrators and social workers.
Pennsylvania uses its purse strings to encourage placements in small, privately run programs. After taking into account any federal reimbursement, the state pays counties 80 percent of the remaining cost of committing a juvenile to a private program, but reimburses only 60 percent of the cost of placing a youth in one of the 600 beds in state-run programs.
The transition to a primarily private-run system has not been without bumps, and many programs that were ill-conceived or poorly managed have fallen by the wayside. But the private-public mixture is now well-ensconced, officials say.
"I think the private sector has to be part of any state's solution to the juvenile crime problem," said James E. Anderson, executive director of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges Commission. "There's no way we could be dealing with it if the state were still running the show. We need the private sector to take even more kids."
Anderson's enthusiasm is supported by the statistics: From 1991 through 1993, about 36 percent of Glen Mills' students and 29 percent of ARC's juveniles earned high school diplomas or equivalency diplomas, compared with just 13 percent of the youths at Jamesburg.
Studies have shown that about 39 percent of Glen Mills' students and 32 percent of ARC's youths commit more crimes after they leave the facilities. New Jersey does not keep track of those numbers, but a corrections official estimated that 65 percent of Jamesburg's juveniles return to a life of crime.
Glen Mills charges $89 a day for each youth at the school. It costs Corrections $90 a day for each juvenile in Jamesburg, and another $25 a day per student is paid by the Department of Education for the youths' schooling, for a total of $115.
The fees for ARC's residential programs range from $144 a day to $168 a day but, unlike the other two facilities, ARC provides a strong program of post-release services, including counseling and school and job placement.
"You get what you pay for," Elby said.
The Glen Mills Schools
There are no guards, fences, or bars marring the 756-acre Glen Mills campus, 20 miles southwest of Philadelphia. With its stately red-brick buildings, manicured quad, and state-of-the-art athletic facilities, Glen Mills looks for all the world like an elite prep school.
That's just what it is, said Ferrainola, the school's larger-than-life director and chief cheerleader. "I made it an academy for rich kids, except my kids don't happen to have a lot of money," he said.
About half of the school's 750 students, who are 15 to 18 years old, are from Pennsylvania; the remainder come from a score of other states that have entered into contracts with the facility. "We get the toughest inner-city gang kids from Baltimore, Washington, New York, Detroit, and Chicago," Ferrainola said.
Out-of-state students are sent to the school on a per-diem basis by judges or by their state corrections or human services departments. Ferrainola reserves the right to reject any juvenile, and the school typically has a waiting list of 12 to 15 students.
Academics is the stated priority of the school, though it is clear that athletics runs at least a close second. Students spend four hours a day in classes divided into five academic levels, ranging from special education to college prep. Students advance an average of 1.8 years academically for every six months they spend at the school, Ferrainola said. The average stay at the school is 13 months.
Much of the focus is on preparing students for a general equivalency diploma. More than 1,000 Glen Mills students have passed the exam in the past six years and the school's GED passing rate consistently exceeds the statewide average, Ferrainola said.
Students are given three hours in the evening for studying, tutoring, gym, or vocational programs that include journalism, art, photography, printing, carpentry, electrical construction, and optics lab, and small-engine and auto-body repair, among others.
The school has varsity and junior varsity teams competing in 14 sports and has won state high school championships in basketball, football, and power-lifting.
Opposition coaches grouse that Glen Mills does not field a truly "local" team because half of its students are from out of state. Some have even suggested that Ferrainola "recruits" students, accepting delinquents based on their ability to bolster his already powerful teams.
Ferrainola smiles at the accusation. "Less than 1 percent of my kids have ever played a varsity sport, and they think I recruit?" he said. Later, standing in the lunch line between two of his larger students, he winked mischievously. "Even if we lose a game, we still win the fights," he said.
The Glen Mills program revolves around a few basic rules:
No one has the right to hurt another person either physically or psychologically.
The classroom is sacred.
Students must take pride in themselves and never behave in a way that brings a negative image to themselves or their school.
Other rules -- or "norms," as they are called -- are explained to a new student by the big brother he is assigned and by the other students. The norms are enforced through what Ferrainola calls "peer-group culture." A student who misbehaves is confronted verbally by his fellow students who "stay in his face" until he conforms. Only in rare cases are staff members summoned.
The primary enforcers are the "bulls," a kind of fraternity whose members enjoy extra privileges and status. To become a bull -- the goal of almost every new arrival -- a student must not only learn all of the norms but must report violations committed by other students.
The peer-group system seems to work. Members of the notorious "Crips" and "Bloods" gangs talk and mingle with each other around the spotless campus, their former allegiances forgotten, or at least put on hold.
"The campus is so peaceful that one is at first fooled into thinking that the population at Glen Mills must be comprised of lightweight offenders," Steve Lerner wrote in his book "The Good News About Juvenile Justice." "A review of the admissions records, however, proves this not to be the case."
The absence of guards and other security measures at the school holds down costs, and the school's $89-a-day fee, including education costs, is less than half the $200-a-day cost of some facilities for serious offenders.
New Jersey officials are well aware of Glen Mills' methodology and track record. During the 1980s, the Division of Youth and Family Services had as many as 20 youngsters at the school. But DYFS stopped sending juveniles in 1989, when school officials refused to give the agency free rein to investigate an abuse complaint involving a New Jersey youth at the school.
DYFS officials visited Glen Mills in July and reached an "understanding" with school officials that may result in the agency's again placing juveniles there, said Chad Consuegra, a DYFS administrative analyst.
In the 1980s, New Jersey corrections officials were so enamored of the school that they tried to re-create Glen Mills at the now-defunct Lloyd McCorkle Training School for Boys and Girls in Skillman.
"It took hold for a while, then it dropped off," said Frank Gripp, the Corrections Department's director of operations. "Maybe we didn't have a good grasp of their system. Instead of trying to blend their culture with ours, we tried to transplant a culture, and that didn't work."
A major roadblock to the change, officials say, was resistance from the corrections officers' union, whose members did not want to shed their uniforms or share their authority with the juveniles.
Corrections officers are not the only ones who question Ferrainola's methods. Some experts contend that Glen Mills is too big to provide the individual attention needed by some students, and that the system of reporting minor transgressions creates a rigid and oppressive environment.
The critics say that Glen Mills' success is misleading because the school admittedly turns away sex offenders, fire-setters, and juveniles with mental health problems. They also deride the program for not having adequate follow-up programs to help students get jobs or return to school when they are sent home.
But that all sounds like sour grapes to Ferrainola. "New Jersey is destroying kids," he said, returning to his hyperbole. "Glen Mills is evidence that there is another way, at half the cost."
Alternative Rehabilitative Communities
Gauging the success of programs for juvenile delinquents is difficult at best, but Elby sees a key difference between state programs and their privately run counterparts.
"When you are a private agency, you don't have a sugar daddy to make sure your bills are paid," he said. "If you don't get referrals, you don't survive."
Elby's organization, Alternative Rehabilitation Communities, has not only survived, it has thrived. Since its creation 19 years ago, the non-profit agency has grown tenfold and now provides services for 115 youths with a typical waiting list of a dozen or more.
"We think well of the ARC program," said Emanuel Cassimatis, a judge for the Court of Common Pleas in York County, which regularly sends youngsters to the agency. "It offers a variety of treatment and rehabilitation programs designed to address the problems that children present."
ARC's six residential programs and one secure facility for serious offenders are located in middle-class neighborhoods in and around Harrisburg. In addition to a general rehabilitative regimen, the agency offers specialized programs for girls, sex offenders, youths with mental health problems, and drug offenders, and also has day treatment and foster-care programs.
ARC was launched in 1975, when Elby heard that Pennsylvania was looking for private-sector programs to accommodate youths from the soon-to-be-closed State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill. Of the dozen proposals accepted by the state that year, only ARC and one other are still around.
Elby attributes much of the program's success to a nurturing staff and a low-key atmosphere where only the facility for the most serious offenders has bars on the windows.
"We provide a safe and secure environment," he said. "Kids need to feel safe for treatment to work. Here, you have kids willing to take risks and to deal with issues they would have fought in the past."
The emphasis at ARC is on schooling, which takes place within the facilities, and counseling inside and outside of the programs. A detailed treatment plan is devised for each new arrival based on a social and psychological evaluation and history of the youth's problems. The programs' small size and low staff-to-student ratio (about 3-to-1) help students attain the short- and long-range goals that are developed for them.
A primary focus is getting youngsters back into school or, for those who are older or more difficult, getting them to take the GED test. About 90 percent of ARC students who try to earn a GED pass the exam, Elby said.
Youngsters are assigned a big brother or sister to serve as a role model and to help persuade them to work with the program rather than resist or run away. Those who excel are given rewards such as home passes, trips to the store for soda and candy, or extra television and recreation time. Misbehaving youths are sanctioned with the worst household chores and "contracts" that require them to work or study during their free periods.
More than 92 percent of the youths complete the program, Elby said, and a study conducted a few years ago showed that 68 percent of those who graduated from an ARC program stayed out of the criminal justice system for the next two years, a recidivism rate considered very good in the juvenile justice arena.
The average commitment to one of ARC's residential programs is for nine to 12 months, and the average stay in its secure facility is six to12 months, with some of those youths later transferred into the residential facilities. ARC's sexual offender and mental health programs can last up to two years.
ARC provides follow-up care through outreach counselors who oversee the youths' transition back into the community. The counselors start accompanying the juveniles on home visits while they are still serving their sentences in order to get insight into their family and social situations. They maintain regular contact -- including face-to-face meetings -- for six months after release. The contacts gradually decrease over a two-year period.
Like many community-based programs, ARC has encountered the not-in-my-back-yard problem, and Elby once had to go to the state Supreme Court to overcome a hostile zoning board. But neighborhood concerns usually are allayed when they see that "these kids aren't really that much different," he said.
Though ARC's prices are considerably higher than those at larger institutions like Glen Mills or Jamesburg, Delaware did not find them out of line when that state went shopping last year for programs for some of its delinquents.
"It came fairly highly recommended to us," said Joseph Conaway, a Delaware family services administrator. "We visited about four other programs, and we were very impressed with ARC's staff and especially the environment." But, Conaway added, "the proof will be in the pudding."