Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
With the number of young offenders on the rise and the youth recidivism rate increasing, juvenile delinquency is a growing social problem in South Korea despite significant financial and human investment. Juvenile delinquency refers to criminal acts such as robbery, rape, and substance abuse committed by youth between the ages of 12 and 20. The government has spent over $17 million annually in an attempt to prevent juvenile delinquency, according to National Youth Policy Institute. However, the number of juvenile offenders increased sharply from 86,000 in 2010 to 107,000 in 2012. According to the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, youth recidivism rates in 2011 marked a serious figure of 37%, showing that more than one third of the juvenile criminals repeat the act. Bucheon, in particular, is one of the top 5 cities in Korea in terms of violent crime rates, creating a challenging environment for local youth, according to a 2011 study conducted for a legislative hearing.
A broken family is said to be a main reason that leads at-risk youths to delinquency. According to a 2014 Ministry of Justice report, as many as 80% of juvenile delinquents come from low-income or single-parent families. As a result, many youth organizations and government agencies have focused on providing at-risk youths with an alternative safety net through temporary shelters. However, many of these shelters do not address the key issue: providing a stable family environment.
Redeemable youths are in many cases actually further damaged by the current juvenile justice system, with first-time offenders getting sent to detention centers. Sung-jin’s key insight is to keep influential young offenders within the community, and to provide a substitute family structure for the youths who lack family support. Instead of isolating juvenile delinquents and relegating them to institutions with more hardened criminals, Sung-jin takes advantage of the community aspect to rehabilitate them. Through a newfound sense of family, these influential youth become positive leaders as opposed to negative influences. By redirecting the social influence of juvenile delinquents, Sung-jin creates a rippling community effect.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Sung-jin has created an innovative group-home cluster model – World Embracing Youths – recognizing that many juvenile delinquents fall into the cycle of recidivism due to relational and emotional deprivation in their families. A group-home cluster is a rehabilitation center in the form of an extended family consisting of three small group homes. Unlike other group homes and youth rehabilitation centers, Sung-jin’s model is unique in that it is big enough to give a sense of extended family but small enough to avoid the feeling of being institutionalized. This way, juvenile delinquents who have suffered from lack of family attention and support can build family-like relationships and be empowered to break cycles of recidivism.
In Sung-jin’s group-home cluster model, the role of parental figures is critical in creating a stable family environment, which in turn helps juvenile delinquents build lasting supportive relationships. Sung-jin recruits adults with their own history of delinquency to live and work with the youths on site for an extended period of time. Having faced and overcome their own personal problems, these adults can deeply empathize with the youths. Over time the youths are able to build long-term bonds and mutual trust with the parental figures, and get practical life advice. Sung-jin is creating apprenticeship opportunities for current employees and youth residents to spread his model in Bucheon and beyond.
Sung-jin leverages local at-risk youth networks in creating impact beyond the immediate members of group home clusters and lowering recidivism rates. Many existing efforts to address the soaring youth crime rate isolate juvenile delinquents from their peers in a worry that the “troubled kids” might propel other young people to indulge in criminal activities. However, Sung-jin recognizes that sending delinquent youths away from their communities for rehabilitation expands their criminal network, and the nationwide network in turn spreads trends of crime quickly. In Sung-jin’s model, local at-risk youth networks become a useful tool. He leverages the influence of juvenile delinquents over their peers in preventing youth crime and lowering recidivism rates. In the same way that crimes are often more infectious to peers when committed by key network leaders, positive changes can be spread more quickly if started from the core group of the networks.