The University of Arkansas at Little Rock is starting a pilot mentoring program to help youth offenders successfully re-enter society after confinement in the juvenile justice system.
Through a partnership involving the UA Little Rock Department of Criminal Justice and the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Youth Services and the Pulaski County Juvenile Crime Prevention Coalition, UA Little Rock students will mentor young offenders as they transition out of residential facilities and back into their communities.
Dr. Tusty ten Bensel, associate professor of criminal justice, and Kilby Raptopoulos, professional instructor of criminal justice and a former criminal probation officer, are leading the mentoring program. The pilot program will consist of five to 10 students the first year.
“This program offers students a unique opportunity to experience juvenile justice from inside the system and positively impact the lives of youth right here in our communities,” ten Bensel said.
Participating UA Little Rock students will mentor Department of Youth Services facility residents two hours a week while they’re confined and after they’re released.
UA Little Rock students interested in participating must be at least 21 and pass criminal records and reference checks. They also must be interviewed by criminal justice faculty members and participate in a two-semester academic course that will meet once a week.
During the first semester, students will learn about the juvenile justice system and be trained as a mentor. Mentees will be selected by the Division of Youth Services or referred to the program by a judge.
For the students, the second semester will be devoted to learning how to help mentees successfully re-enter society after incarceration. Mentors will learn how they can help their mentees with tasks such as getting a job, going back to school and opening a bank account. Mentors also will help youths learn how to handle personal conflicts, family problems, and anger management issues, ten Bensel said.
“These juveniles face a lot of obstacles in their life, and they often don’t have the stability of one person they can count on,” ten Bensel said. “I hope our students can be that one person who is a role model and someone they can look up to.”
Pictured in the upper right photo is Dr. Tusty ten Bensel, associate professor of criminal justice. Photo by Lonnie Timmons III/UA Little Rock Communications.