Intern Follows Calling to Aid Youth in Juvenile Justice

Yahaira Alcantara

Internship

Yahaira Alcantara followed in the footsteps of juvenile probation officers in Harris County to aid youth in the criminal justice system.

Yahaira “Gabby” Alcantara witnessed juvenile probation in action in Harris County during her internship this spring.

“I felt like I was part of the team wherever I went,” said Alcantara. “They made me feel comfortable and I learned better that way. The people were really awesome. I wanted to learn whatever I could while I had this opportunity.”

Alcantara was exposed to many different programs in Harris County Juvenile Probation, including a community-based program, gang court intensive supervision, and court services. She went on visits to homes and schools, attended briefing sessions among the staff; and learned about the pre-adjudication process and placement. As a bilingual student, she also helped with a few translations.

“I always wanted to work in juvenile probation,” said Alcantara. “I knew I made the right career choice when I saw first-hand what the officers do in this community. I made new friends who provided me with encouragement and support. Working alongside these officers allowed me to pick up on their different styles and tailor them to me.”

Before venturing out to the field, Alcantara was briefed on the basics of juvenile probation, including the rules of the system, how juveniles check in with officers, the paperwork involved, how to write reports, and how to get attendance records from schools.

At the Community Unit Probation Services, she helped organize Women’s International Day for young women and their mothers, which featured a presentation on human trafficking. “Everybody loved it and truly enjoyed it,” Alcantara said. “The girls even helped to plan it, getting together every Monday.”

At Gang Court, juveniles are subject to intensive supervision, including visits with probation officers two to three times a week. “If we were not on field visits, they were calling the kids,” Alcantara said.
Every week, the probation staff would gather to share information about their clients and activities. “It kept everyone updated, so everyone knew what was going on.”

In Court Services, Alcantara was exposed to the pre-adjudication process, where she learned about policies and procedures, 24-hour supervision using ankle monitoring, off-site placements, residential programs, and specialty services for mental health, drug treatment, and female offenders.

The highlight of her time in juvenile probation occurred during a family visit, where Alcantara witnessed a strained relationship between a mother and daughter. Although the daughter shared her successes in being drug free, the mother continued to provide negative feedback. Alcantara pulled the mother aside and suggested that positive feedback might help. During the next visit, when the youth tested negative for drugs again, that mother said: “That’s awesome. I am proud of you.”

“The girl’s face lit up. and she went off happy,” Alcantara recalled.

As a first-generation college student, Alcantara met many people, who encouraged and supported her along the way. After attending court and courts session, Alcantara realized she had more to offer the juvenile justice system. She now plans to pursue law school.

“There is something about youth,” she said. “You feel like you are needed. It’s a calling.”

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