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Posted on: April 15, 2019

WPD’s youth diversion program gaining statewide attention

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It’s a program aimed at giving teens a second chance while providing the resources and guidance needed to keep them out of trouble.

Watsonville Police Department’s  Youth Diversion Program Caminos Hacia el Éxito is gaining attention statewide, as organizations call for lawmakers to set aside funding to implement similar programs.

Chief David Honda was recently invited to the state capital to discuss how Caminos Hacia el Éxito has helped hundreds of Watsonville teens.

Juan Valencia was 16 years old when he had his first run-in with police. The teen had no idea what to expect after committing a misdemeanor.

Caminos to the Capitol jpg2“Coming here to the police station it was kind of frightening,” Valencia said.

Instead of heading straight to the juvenile justice system, the teen was referred to Caminos Hacia el Éxito, Caminos for short. 

“It’s like an opportunity to like start fresh, better myself and also learn,” the teen explained.

Caminos works with several organizations to give teens the tools to stay on track and out of trouble while holding them accountable for their actions.

“We have intervention programs using counselors for different issues that are affecting our youth today; depression, anxiety and stuff like that,” Watsonville Police Chief David Honda said. “We also have restorative circles. The offender, the victim, and the community come together and they have dialogues to discuss what the actions that kid actually did and the ramifications of that and how it affects other people.”

The National Center for Youth Law recently invited Chief Honda to the state capital to talk about Caminos, in hopes of getting lawmakers to set aside funding to implement similar programs statewide.

“People always ask ‘well, how do we know this works?’ Well, it’s been working in Watsonville and they’ve been trying to expand for a while but they don’t have that dedicated funding stream that they need to be able to take what they know works and make sure every youth has that opportunity, ” said Anna Johnson from The National Center for Youth.

Since 2012, more than 450 teens have participated in Caminos. Ninety-one percent did not reoffend six months after completing the program.

“These programs cost money but it costs more money to have a kid incarcerated for minor offenses. In the long run, it benefits us too because these kids become productive parts and leaders of our society,” Chief Honda explained.

Like Valencia, who’s already on the right path to success.

“Definitely staying out of trouble. I’m just working. Right now, just mostly school because it’s my last year and I’m looking to go to college. It makes me look at things very different. If I’m in a certain situation, I’m like ‘oh, I’m just going to step aside now,’” Valencia said.

Valencia is now 17 years old and hopes to become a marine biologist one day.

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