New ‘Merit Center’ opens at Juvenile Hall

San Francisco city officials Tuesday celebrated the official opening of a new recreation center for youth at Juvenile Hall.

The Merit Center, a pilot program that makes use of existing space at Juvenile Hall, will allow qualifying youth a chance to play foosball, ping pong and video games and participate in movie nights and other group activities, officials said.

Access to the center will serve as an incentive for good behavior, with youth qualifying by participating in unit programs, showing positive and supportive behavior with peers and staff, attending and participating in the school program and completing homework assignments.

Officials said the creation of the center was made possible by a reduction in the hall’s inmate population, which has declined from a daily average of 123 in April 2008 to 45 youth today, a more than 60 percent reduction.

“For the past decade, San Francisco has implemented new ideas and approaches to reduce the number of youth at Juvenile Hall, and those strategies have produced incredible results that today allow us to launch the next phase of our juvenile justice efforts with the opening of this new Merit Center,” Mayor Ed Lee said in a statement.

Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Allen Nance said the center was intended to help address the root causes that bring youth into the juvenile justice system.

“If we can provide youth with the motivation and support to change their behavior and teach them the skills to succeed in school, at home, and in the workplace, we won’t see them reenter the system and we will reduce recidivism even further,” Nance said.