Tom Jeffers, Founder of Youth Advocate Programs, Passes Away

Tom Jeffers, a pioneer in the provision of community-based services to juvenile offenders, passed away today at the age of 75.

Jeffers established Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), one of America’s first organizations dedicated to community-based interventions for delinquent youth, in 1975.

“He was a visionary,”  said Carey Cockerell, a member of YAP’s policy advisory board. “He was ahead of his field, and he provided light in many people’s lives including mine.”

Jeffers spent his early working years as a right hand for Jerome Miller, an early champion for reform of the juvenile justice system’s reliance on incarceration. Miller passed away this summer at the age of 83.

In 1971, Miller — then in charge of Massachusetts Division of  Youth Services — met his lead staffer Jeffers for drinks in a Boston pub. The two decided that the Lyman School for Boys, a training school with a history of abuse scandals, was not an ailment in need of a cure.

Ultimately, the two would empty all of Massachusetts’ locked juvenile facilities, and did not incur a rise in arrests as they proceeded to serve those delinquents at home.

As Miller moved on to work in other states– including Pennsylvania, which in 1975 declared that it would remove 400 juveniles from its Camp Hill prison– Jeffers settled in Harrisburg, Penn., and founded (YAP) as a community alternative to the prison.

The model evolved to include two bedrock provisions for clients:

  • The establishment of an intensive mentoring relationship between YAP clients and paid, professional youth workers.
  • Supported Work: the provision of training on job skills and work habits culminating in paid employment.

YAP gained its first major foothold in Philadelphia in 1977, and expanded the next year to New Jersey, where it continues to operate in 20 of the state’s 21 counties.

It was an expansion into Texas in 1992 that established YAP as more than a regional services provider. Faced with escalating gang violence that ensnared many young men from certain neighborhoods, Tarrant County leadership visited YAP’s Philadelphia operation. Cockerell, Tarrant County’s chief probation officer at the time, was introduced to YAP by national juvenile justice expert Paul DeMuro.

“We liked what we saw,”said Cockerell. “This was a group of people committed to the mission of keeping kids in their homes, with strength-based intensive services.”

Jeffers retired in 2003, handing the reins to current CEO Jeff Fleischer. YAP now provides community-based alternatives to detention and incarceration in 20 states, and will celebrate its 40th anniversary next month in Harrisburg.

Jeffers is survived by his wife, Minette Bauer, YAP’s president of Illinois programs; sons Ian and Colin; and daughter Ellie.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.