SAN FRANCISCO—On Tuesday, November 15, San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee and Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Allen Nance opened the new recreational center, The Merit Center at Juvenile Hall that will reward teens for their positive behavior.

Extra space was repurposed to construct the facility. The recreational center was made possible because Juvenile Hall has seen a 60 percent reduction in its population since April 2008. According to the Mayor’s Office, the Merit Center “represents a shift to a new model for detained youth that emphasizes positive reinforcement and behavior management.”

“For the past decade, San Francisco has implemented new ideas and approaches to reduce the number of youth at juvenile hall, and those strategies have produced incredible results that today allow us to launch the next phase of our juvenile justice efforts with the opening of this new Merit Center,” said Mayor Lee in a statement.

Youth who qualify for access to the center will be allowed to partake in a myriad of recreational activities, from foosball, ping pong, video games, movie nights, group activities and literary programs.

“We want to repurpose our facilities to address the root causes that bring youth into the juvenile justice system,” said Allen Nance on Tuesday. “If we can provide youth with the motivation and support to change their behavior and teach them the skills to succeed in school, at home, and in the workplace, we won’t see them reenter the system and we will reduce recidivism even further,” said Nance.

Teens who display positive attitudes to their peers and staff members, complete homework assignments, and actively participate in unit programs can earn Merit status. It also includes interacting positively with their peers and staff, maintaining solid participation and attendance records in their school program, and completing their assigned homework.

Allen Nance sees the Merit Center as a method to help transform the youth’s behavior by focusing on social, recreational, vocational skills, and behavioral health. The city hopes the Merit Center will help revision the way detention facilities are perceived and utilized. The techniques implemented at the center will be applied throughout Juvenile Hall to create an environment that helps each teen succeed once they are released.

Written By Totianna Weekly and Aya Rashad