Ocean County Press Release
Center Programs Focus on Helping Turn Young Lives Around
TOMS RIVER – Every day that Walter Hopson walks through the halls of the Ocean County Juvenile Detention Center he is reminded of his goals by a simple banner hanging over an entry way. "With malice toward none, with charity for all," the banner reads, words from President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address.
"Truly words to live by," said Hopson, who was recently named the new superintendent of the center. "I believe that by working toward that goal every day you really can make a difference."
Hopson, who has worked at the juvenile detention center for 22 years, rising through the ranks from a juvenile detention center officer to now superintendent, has experienced first hand the changes in juvenile detention programs.
"Walt brings a wealth of experience to this position," said Freeholder John P. Kelly, Director of Law and Public Safety. "He knows the importance of working with the juveniles, their parents and guardians, the courts, law enforcement and the community so that programs work and ultimately provide help for the youths who are here."
Kelly noted that juvenile detention is now far more than just the basics of providing food and shelter for young men and women that have been accused of crimes.
"They get counseling while they are here," Kelly said. "They work with social workers. They are provided with recreational activities. And the most important component is education."
The Juvenile Detention Center houses juveniles ages 14 to 18 who have been found guilty of a crime or are awaiting disposition. The stay at the center is no longer than 60 days.
In 2007, a new education center including four classrooms, a library, multipurpose room and other amenities was opened at the juvenile detention center, eliminating outside trailers and providing an atmosphere conducive to learning.
"Education is a key component to a productive life and a successful future," Kelly said. "The Ocean County Juvenile Services Department is here to help at risk youth develop into more secure individuals, to promote positive changes in their personal development and remain productive and socially adjusted members of the community.
"The education center helped further that objective," he said.
Kelly said by continuing their education, the youths that are in the center can make a better transition once released and back at home and in the community.
Schooling at the detention center runs year-round and is supported by the Ocean County Vocational-Technical School system.
"Falling behind in school will only make worse an already difficult situation," Kelly said. "This provides them an opportunity to continue their education or receive their GED."
Hopson said the opening of the education center and the creation of pods as the living space for the youths that are sent there has made a positive difference.
"The creation of the pods which allows for the separation of factions has had a positive influence on how kids behave," Hopson said. "The facility does provide a safe place for these kids and we are here to help establish constructive relationships and to keep a dialogue going even after their release."
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato said he looked forward to working with Hopson and to continue the efforts of helping teenagers that are housed at the center.
"I look forward to working with Superintendent Hopson," Coronato said. "His leadership and initiatives are tremendously important in assuring Ocean County's Juvenile Detention Center is providing quality supportive rehabilitative services. The focus for juvenile offenders should never be punitive, but always working to instill positive mentoring and direction."
Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari noted the importance of the support the Freeholder board provides to the shelter.
"Under the leadership of Freeholder Kelly along with Walter Hopson, youths entering the facility are provided with the help they need to meet the challenges they face," Vicari said.
Both Kelly and Hopson noted the importance of such long-time programs that have been instituted at the center including a mentoring program, pet therapy and the RAISE program.
Kelly said these programs are successful because of the community support.
"Pets are known to reduce stress," Kelly said. "We are grateful to the members of the community who will share their love for animals and bring their dogs to the center to spend some time with the juveniles that are here.
"The juveniles respond well to them and it helps reduce the frustration and anger they often experience," Kelly said.
Hopson noted the long-time mentoring program reaches out to children as young as third grade to provide them with good role models and assistance that they may not receive at home.
"We want to reach out to at-risk children early so they know that someone is there to help them," Hopson said.
RAISE provides at risk youths with after school activities and opportunities.
"It provides instruction in agriculture, automotive skills, culinary skills and continuing education," Hopson said.
Kelly said the key to helping troubled youngsters is to provide a well-rounded program that can provide coping skills, education and some stability.
"No one wants to see someone's son or daughter wind up at a juvenile detention center," Kelly said. "If they are sent here we want to make sure they have been provided with the help and tools they need to make a better life for themselves once they leave here. This is the opportunity for a second chance. We have to make it count."