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Sacramento Youth Detention Center Program Tries To Stem Racial Swimming Gap

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) - Swimming for survival: That's what Sacramento County's Youth Detention Facility is hoping to teach young boys and girls of color.

The swimming program first launched in 2015 to help reduce the number of African-American children who drown each year.

The detention facility is one of the only in the state with a swimming pool - and since the program launched, many young boys and girls say the program has changed their perspective on life.

"A lot of my family on my Black side don't know how to swim and they don't feel comfortable in the pool."

Isaiah says he didn't feel comfortable being in a pool, either, until a bad decision he made landed him at the youth detention center, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

"I learned how to do certain things I couldn't do, like swimming under water, swimming backwards and doing flips under water," Isaiah said.

According to the Center for Disease and Control, between 1999 and 2010, African-American children between the ages of 5 and 19 were five-and-a-half times more likely to die from drowning than white children.

"This is where I learned how to swim."

Manuel joined the detention facility's swimming program six months ago. He says growing up, he was afraid to swim and says he remembers almost drowning when he tried testing the waters.

"Since learning to swim here, I feel better and I'm more confident," Manuel said.

Officials at the detention facility say that's exactly why they partnered with the YMCA in 2015 to launch a swimming program.

"We are in Sacramento, we have rivers, lakes and streams, and one of the things I try to focus on is water safety," said Patrick Maridon with the facility.

Maridon works with the young boys and girls at the detention facility and says the program has had more than 1,000 participants since its inception.

But it's more than just drowning prevention, Maridon said. The facility also launched a lifeguard certification program in June.

"It's a great opportunity to give the kids a job skill when they get out and give back to the community," Maridon added.

And for Isaiah, he says he wants to take the plunge and help his community in any way he can.

"I'm always looking for something to do when I get out, something productive."

About thirty teenagers at the detention facility signed up for the certification program, and almost a dozen are expected to become certified lifeguards in the next month.

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