ROSES at Rutgers Program Provides Intervention for Girls in Camden County Juvenile Justice System

By Tom McLaughlin

According to nationwide statistics, arrests of girls increased 69 percent between 1985 and 2010, compared to 5 percent for boys. Furthermore, girls’ arrests for crimes against persons increased 190 percent during that timeframe, and their arrests for drug offenses increased 117 percent during that time.

ROSES at Rutgers is working to change the alarming statistics for girls’ arrests.

But in Camden County, a unique partnership between Rutgers University–Camden and the Camden County Youth Services Commission is working to change these alarming numbers.

The initiative, ROSES (Resilience, Opportunity, Safety, Education, Strength) at Rutgers, is a new community-based advocacy program focused on providing intervention for girls in juvenile detention, on probation, or deemed at-risk for justice system involvement.

A group of Rutgers–Camden students learned how to serve as advocates in the fall under the tutelage of Jane Siegel, a professor of criminal justice and chair of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice at Rutgers–Camden.

Eight students – six undergraduates and two graduate students – are now spending the spring semester serving as one-on-one advocates for girls in the Camden County juvenile justice system, under the supervision of Michelle Meloy, a professor of criminal justice and associate dean for the Graduate School and research.

“The vital role of the advocate includes assisting girls with obtaining much-needed services and resources, and, most importantly, helping them to develop lifelong self-efficacy skills,” explains Siegel, who notes that they hope to expand the program to serve boys and girls and train 15 advocates a year.

Gabrielle Winter says that the ROSES program is unique in its basis on a “strength-based perspective.”

One of the current advocates, Gabrielle Winter, a junior criminal justice and political science major minoring in legal studies at Rutgers University–Camden, says that the ROSES program is unique in its basis on a “strength-based perspective.” This focus, she says, encourages clients to become more aware of their strengths and how they can use these strengths to become their own advocates long after the program has ended.

“It’s about them learning to empower themselves,” says the West Deptford resident. “At the end of these ten weeks, they are going to know how to take that leadership role in their lives.”

Winter notes that, consistent with the program guidelines, her recent first meeting with her client focused to establish trust, as well as an understanding of the advocates’ roles in helping clients define their goals and needs, rather than follow a prescribed one-size-fits-all plan of action.

“Rather than us come in and say, ‘This is what you should do, and you need to be doing this or that,’ it’s about learning what she wants to accomplish,” says Winter, who hopes to utilize the advocacy experience in her future legal career specializing in family law.

According to Siegel, the ROSES at Rutgers program is modeled on an existing ROSES program developed at the University of Illinois and later rolled out successfully by director Shabnam Javdani at New York University, with funding from the National Institute of Justice. The Camden County Youth Services Commission approached her about teaching the course with the hope that it would become a sustained partnership between Rutgers–Camden and Camden County.

“Rosy Arroyo, the YSC director, is super-excited about it and sees it as part of what they refer to as ‘deep-end reform’ of the juvenile justice system in Camden County,” says Siegel. “There is a lot to be excited about. Girls who participated in ROSES reported significant declines in delinquency, use of physical violence, marijuana use, depression, anxiety and anger, and increases in feelings of self-efficacy and resilience.”

Michelle Meloy notes the many benefits of the ROSES program for Rutgers–Camden students as well.

In summer 2018, Siegel and Meloy were personally trained by Javdani on how to implement the ROSES program at Rutgers–Camden. Siegel led the fall course, which focused on weekly readings and class discussions highlighting various issues facing the American juvenile justice system. Meloy then took the reins of the project this spring.

“We hope the students will learn about the value of advocacy work with young people, the juvenile justice system, effective communication skills, and about the benefits and challenges of working with at-risk youth,” says Meloy. “These experiences may help students determine if human-service work or justice-related professions are a good fit for them.”

According to Meloy, the teaching team – comprised of her and two graduate assistants – recruited the youth, primarily from juvenile probation, to participate in the program. The team members then made a series of home visits and intake appointments with the youth and their parents.

She notes that the Rutgers–Camden students are required to report on their progress in weekly supervision meetings with the teaching team and fellow classmates. The teaching team is also available to students outside of class and can be reached 24/7 in the case of an emergency.

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