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Teens in Las Cruces earning their diplomas while incarcerated

Teens in Las Cruces earning their diplomas while incarcerated (Source: KFOX14)

Teens incarcerated in the John Paul Detention Center in Las Cruces are getting a second chance to improve their lives.

Every day, they’re taking classes and learning new skills to prepare them for life when they’re released.

This program was started nearly three years ago and is operated by the Children Youth and Families Department.

Teens locked up at the John Paul Taylor detention center cover core subjects aligned with state standards with math, science, reading and English.

Inside the John Paul Taylor detention Center is the Aztec Youth Academy.

It’s a school for incarcerated teens that allows them to earn high school and college credits.

“They leave here with a diploma,; they leave here having accomplished something really incredible and for some of them, they come here with zero credits so to come here with zero credits and work that hard to get a diploma when you leave I think is incredible,” said Monique Jacobson, Cabinet secretary for CYFD.

Right now, there are about 150 teens incarcerated in New Mexico for crimes that range from armed robbery to murder.

The John Paul Taylor Detention Center houses about 40-50 teens who are then enrolled in the Aztec Youth Academy school.

KFOX14 spoke with a student but we aren’t allowed to release his name. He said he’s had his run-ins with the law but talked about what the program has taught him so far.

“We’ve took JCC classes to where it can help us with life skills as far as paying bills, budgeting and taxes... I’ve learned how to control my anger,” the student said.

The 15-year old student said he came into the program without any high school credits.

He’s now caught up with his credits and said he has aspirations to one day become a dental hygienist or a physical therapist.

“I mean, there’s a lot of things I’ve learned since I’ve been here, even work ethic. I think that’s a big one for me,” the student said.

Students also get hands-on experience with vocational programs such as woodworking, welding and planting their own crops.

“They’re definitely taking the experience with them. You know, confidence is everything when they can go and apply for a job and know they can perform the job safely. I think it really helps them out,” said Adan Sanchez, a vocational teacher at Aztec Youth Academy.

KFOX14 spoke with another student who said he’s just two months away from being released and is making plans to join the service.

“Joining the military is a very big thing for me, so getting my diploma. I’ll probably (be) doing some job corps when I get out, pick up some trades. I might join the youth challenge as well -- anything that can keep me occupied and away from drugs and off the streets,” the student said.

“They do oftentimes thrive when there’s some stability and structure. We want to make sure they can replicate that when they get out,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said they’re taking this vocational program and expanding it to their facilities in Albuquerque in September.

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