Former Prison Rehabilitation Authority founder Avraham Hoffman has unveiled a new program aimed at identifying and reforming juvenile delinquents who are likely to become dangerous gangsters in adulthood.
"All current crime leaders started committing offenses when they were under the age of criminal prosecution ," Hoffman told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
"But not all delinquents will grow up to be major criminals. If the number of offenses grows exponentially every year, then we have the proof that this will not just be another troublemaker - that the boy is on the way to becoming a heavyweight criminal," Hoffman added.
"A typical example would be of a youth who commits four offenses in his first year of criminal activity, 16 in the following year, and 61 in the third year," Hoffman said.
During a talk delivered to a conference of the International Corrections and Prisons Association in Barbados in October, Hoffman presented the Shoshan program as a model for helping youths break out of the crime cycle.
Shoshan was implemented as a pilot scheme several years ago in Tel Aviv, and since 2006 it has been expanded to include 90 percent of juvenile delinquents in Israel who fit the relevant criteria.
"We know that Israel's organized crime leaders started out in detention as juveniles," Hoffman told the conference. "Hence, not rehabilitating these youngsters presents a long-term danger. In other words, the rehabilitation of young inmates is meant to save them personally as well as saving the state from the creation of new leaders of the criminal world."
The Shoshan program is based on the idea of preparing youths for lives outside of prisons after their release, ending their involvement in crime and providing them with the tools to peacefully integrate into their families and communities.
Young inmates join the program by signing an "individual treatment contract."
Program employees then create a personalized treatment program which goes into effect three to six months before he is released from prison.
"The team gathers all the necessary information for treating each boy. They meet each boy and present him the principles of the program. The young prisoner participates in a course preparing him for his release from prison," Hoffman said, adding that bonds with the youth's "family and the prison therapist is strengthened."
After prison, the former delinquent meets regularly with a social worker, takes part in sport and leisure classes, social activities, and is offered the possibility of acquiring a vocation.
"Friendly employers are found to employ these boys and give them special attention," Hoffman said.
Group therapy and family intervention also form important tenets of the program.
In 2008, 62.7% of youths who took part successfully completed the program, a rise from the 54% who completed it in 2007.
But Hoffman conceded that the program was unable to answer the needs of some delinquents.
"Some of them did not have parents and for others the return home was a danger. Moreover some of these youngsters were in such a bad situation that the Shoshan program did not work for them," he said.
Hoffman subsequently devised a backup program, Milestone, aimed at the youths who could not be helped by Shoshan. Milestone involves semi-closed therapy settings to soften the passage from prison to life in society and more intensive rehabilitation techniques.
Fifty nine percent of Milestone participants successfully completed the program in 2008, compared with 40% in 2007.
"King David said that like arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are the sons of one's youth," Hoffman said. "The youths may be as arrows in the hands of the hero... but they can also be poisonous arrows. Our duty, as society, is to prevent them from becoming poisonous arrows and help them become a blessing to society," he added.