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Amid rise in violence, Multnomah County's H.E.A.T program hopes to make a difference

The curriculum is tailored for Black men involved in and leaving the justice system.

PORTLAND, Oregon — A Multnomah County program aims to keep people out of the criminal justice system with a curriculum that emphasizes community, counseling and healing. 

H.E.A.T., an acronym for "Habilitation, Empowerment, Accountability, Therapy," is tailored to Black men between the ages of 18 and 29 involved in the justice system.

"H.E.A.T. is a tool, and it is culturally specific so it really speaks to these young men that we are working with," said Travis Gamble, a community justice manager for Multnomah County. "I think a large component of it too is having a credible messenger deliver this curriculum."

The nine-month program includes mentorship and counseling sessions led by someone who has similar experiences as the young men.

"If you're talking about me and talking about issues I can relate to, I'm going to be more engaged but it's not only used to engage but it's used to heal," explained Darryl Turpin, who founded H.E.A.T in 2012 as a cognitive-based intervention to address and change beliefs and attitudes.

The curriculum gives the men the opportunity to examine the harm that has been done to them, as well as the harm they may have inflicted on other people. 

RELATED: A program in Multnomah County is getting more funding to keep at-risk youth out of juvenile justice system

Gamble says many of the men have experienced trauma, but the curriculum also focuses on taking responsibility for their actions.

"There is a piece about accountability, but there's also a piece about creating spaces where these young men have an opportunity to reimagine themselves."

Three men graduated this past year. Before the pandemic, the county had a total of 27 graduates since 2016.  

"Your past doesn't define you, you can have a different future then what people might project on you based on your past," said Gamble.

RELATED: 2 dead after 4 shootings in the Portland metro area on a single day

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