By some reports, youth violence in Atlanta has become an ‘epidemic’ with a county-wide rate that is nearly 15% higher than the national average. Obviously, incarceration is one way to punish offenders, but is there a better way to intervene in the lives of these youth and help them turn their lives around?

In August 2019, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve funding for Project Level Up, an intervention program piloted by the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office that will work to reduce arrests and violence involving juvenile offenders. Project Level Up will focus on juvenile repeat offenders who have accumulated three or more arrests and offer them an aftercare initiative, mentoring and family intervention as alternative approaches to keeping them in jail.

Even families directly affected by youth violence have embraced forgiveness over vengeance as a path forward for healing. As one example, one family who was victimized by a brutal home invasion in northwest Atlanta has come out as advocates for youth intervention over indefinite incarceration. «We were both shocked and devastated [that] at such a young age, they could have this [criminal] mentality,» said victim Michael Lash.

The problem is widespread. According to one Department of Education report, “More than 50,000 people under the age of 21 are confined in juvenile justice facilities. After being released from those facilities, more than a quarter of youth reentering the public school setting drop out of school within six months; only 15% of released ninth graders graduate from high school in four years, and almost half of those released return to confinement within three years. It’s important to address the day-to-day reality of youth transitioning from confinement and the challenges they face when returning to their schools and communities. Research has made clear that successful transition services can increase the likelihood of high school graduation and reduce recidivism for justice-involved youth.”

Fulton County Commissioners are optimistic. “Our hope is that a program like Project Level Up can help address both the crime that plagues so many of our communities and the need for viable opportunities for our young people as an alternative to the streets,” Commission Chair Robb Pitts told 11 Alive. “Our hope is that this will yield tangible results in each of these areas.”

Through Project Level Up, juvenile offenders are assigned a case worker and provided with services to help them stay away from a life of crime. If they graduate from Level Up, the charges still pending against them would be dismissed. The program incorporates extensive mentoring and is supported by the Fulton County Division of Youth and Community Services, the Public Defender’s Office, several area religious groups and organizations such as the Atlanta Police Foundation, the At-Promise Center, the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club.

Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall adds, “Project Level Up is a program that will be used to combat the juvenile crime epidemic in Fulton County. I am excited to see this program begin to help support the lives of our young people and their families.”

At A 2nd Chance Bail Bonds, we always like to hear stories about second – or third or fourth – chances as people work hard to rebuild their lives. We’ve been there ourselves, and we’re now proud to be here for those who need a helping hand.