The University of California–Irvine (UCI) last week received $10 million from the Orange County Health Care Agency to study the long-term impact of the Young Adult Court in the county—a program to help young adults charged with a felony reduce their sentence and lead a productive life going forward.
The grant will fund a research project—led by Elizabeth Cauffman, professor of Psychological Science at UCI—aimed at understanding the effectiveness of the program in helping the participants lead a better life by reducing recidivism, substance abuse, and mental health issues, among other problems, school officials announced July 26.
The program, called the Young Adult Court, launched in 2018, is a court for county male residents between 18 and 25 years old who have committed felonies for the first time. According to UCI, the goal of the court is to address and prevent future criminal behavior by connecting the men with mental health services, housing, education, and jobs.
“The goal of [the young adult court] is to really get kids back on track quickly,” Cauffman said.
The biggest incentive for participating in the program is that defendants will be allowed to have their felony charge reduced to a misdemeanor or dismissed when they complete a list of requirements—including attending all court hearings, meeting with probation officers and case managers, getting drug and alcohol abuse treatment, and seeking mental health counseling along with employment and education advice and following through, according to UCI.
“This is important not only for the youth but for our community as a whole. If we want these youth to be productive members of our society, we cannot saddle them with a label that limits their opportunities,” Cauffman said in the announcement.
Based on the young adult court criteria, only people with low-level felonies are eligible. For instance, felonies involving murder, weapon use, and great bodily injury will not be considered for the program, according to Cauffman.
The new funding will allow the research team to extend the amount of time they can track those who completed the program and expand the research capacity to include up to 300 first-time felony offenders—half in the court program and the other half in the control group.
The latest funding will also allow the research team to provide mental health counseling through the school’s clinical psychology doctoral program among other services.
Currently, the court has 17 graduates, and all had their felonies removed from their records.
Chiefwinds, a young man who finished the program last November, said during a recent graduation ceremony that the program helped him to become a better person and that he felt sorry for the people he hurt.
“I am very thankful,” Chiefwinds said. “The Young Adult Court is a blessing from God because it gave me a second chance when I thought I wouldn’t get one. … Without this program, I would probably still be doing drugs and still be stubborn doing drugs. This really opened my eyes to really benefit from change.”
Another recent graduates, Jorge, also expressed his gratitude at his graduation.
“It was a rough start in the beginning after my arrest for drinking and driving,” he said. “This Young Adult Court showed me that the rest of my life still has value and character. I learned my lesson. I’ve shut that door and I won’t go back.”