Skip to Content
Advanced Search

To offer at-risk youth a taste of prison reality

To offer at-risk youth a taste of prison reality.


Partners in Prevention, an Oklahoma group committed to discouraging at-risk youth from a life of incarceration, arranges for youth an overnight stay in prison.


According to project organizer Ester Holzendorf, the aim is " ‘to impact the kids with the reality of what it is to do time. Penitentiaries are not glamorous.’ " Adds Holzendorf, the program targets young persons " ‘who haven’t really turned heavy crime but are heading that way.’ "


Students arrive at a state prison on a Friday night (in this situation, it was the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester), and are matched with a counselor from Partners in Prevention when checked into the prison. The participants are fingerprinted, given prison attire, and photographed. They then dine at a nearby correctional center cafeteria. The evening becomes grim when each student is moved into his or her individual cell.

The mentors join the students later in the evening for "one-on-one discussions about their own situations and feelings shortly before the group is moved to an employees’ recreational area for a few hours sleep." At 5:30 a.m., the Saturday morning wake-up call ushers in a trip to a mule barn. An unarmed guard then chauffeurs the group to a day of community service work at a local landfill.

Before leaving prison, certificates of participation are awarded to the students. The counselors maintain contact with the participants in follow-up sessions.


The Partners in Prevention project coordinator, Ester Holzendorf, is also a regional civil rights administrator for the Oklahoma Corrections Department. It is essential that the project leader be actively involved with the corrections system. Program modifications are necessary on a state-by-state basis.


This new program has not existed long enough to communicate its successes and failures.

Source: Johnson, S.D. (1996, January 18). Prison gives kids taste of reality: Youths due to spend night behind bars. The Daily Oklahoman, p. 10.


  1. At-risk youth are difficult to reach. By the time they are in school, their lives are often entrenched in dysfunction and appear doomed. It is hoped that shock value will somehow frighten these kids into straightening out their lives.
  2. At-risk youth often do not have the skills necessary for creating healthy lifestyles. They need constant support and education, firm reprimand, and boosts of self-esteem. Never assume that can a juvenile delinquent can behave correctly on his or her own. They can learn; it just takes time and patience.
  3. Saving a young person from a life of crime is a valiant service. In our tumultuous society, one needs to address the causes and needs of at-risk youth.
  4. Youth workers can serve as potent role models for at-risk youth. Troubled teens yearn for positive mentors. But youth workers, unless specially trained, cannot expect to save "at-risk" youth without extensive and existing support.

Kathryn Q. Powers cCYS