Young people, especially those in the justice system, should experience opportunities that enhance their strengths rather than continually punish their deficits. This is especially important for systems, agencies, and programs serving youth who are reentering their communities from the juvenile justice system. As detailed in our previous post, it is never too late for young people transitioning out of the justice system to experience opportunities that emphasize the possibilities for education, employment, and independence. The programs and policies highlighted in this post are doing just that.
The Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES)
CASES is a New York City based reentry and alternative sentencing center whose mission is to decrease individual’s involvement with the justice system and improve public safety. By partnering with judges, district attorneys, and other nonprofits, CASES offers alternative sentencing as well as reentry services leading to education and employment for youth ages 13-20.
The Career Exploration program is an award-winning, holistic approach to career planning and exploration for justice-involved youth who missed school-to-work opportunities because of their involvement with the system. Career Exploration offers young people employment readiness training, internship placements, academic support, and connections to alumni through networking events.
The Young Adult Justice Scholars program serves young men and women ages 16-24 who have been involved with the court system during the past year. For 6 months, youth participate in education, case management, and career development, ultimately leading to the completion of a secondary credential, GED, and/or postsecondary transition planning.
Vera Institute of Justice: Engaging Families in the Reentry Process
Many justice-involved youth The Vera Institute of Justice is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit center whose mission is to pursue justice for every individual through research, technical assistance, advice, and planning. Their Family Justice Program exists to strengthen youth reentry from the justice system by building positive relationships and social networks at home. Rooted in a two-generation approach, Vera’s work attempts to improve the outcomes of justice-involved youth by strengthening their relationships with family members. Working with lawmakers in Indiana, Vera negotiated unlimited family visitation hours for incarcerated youth (rather than only one visit per week). When youth leave facilities, they will go home to familiar, supportive relationships to help them navigate the reentry process.
Alliance for Children’s Rights: Ensuring Legal Rights and Connections to Permanency
The Alliance for Children’s Rights in Los Angeles, California provides rights and a pathway to permanency for vulnerable youth and those transitioning from the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The Alliance is specifically focused on advocating for the legal rights of these young people, and the NextStep program is a concentrated effort to assist young people transitioning out of the probationary and child welfare systems.
With a staff of attorneys and advocates, the NextStep program offers legal advice to formerly justice-involved youth on matters such as sealing juvenile records, addressing identity theft, appealing Social Security Income (SSI) denials, and providing advice on legal problems resulting from marketing schemes (to which justice-involved and foster youth are more vulnerable). In addition to legal advice and services, NextStep provides connections to education, employment, and permanency supports like housing. Former probationary youth are also eligible to sit on the Alliance’s Youth Council.
The point of reentry is a critical one for justice-involved youth. It is an important yet often overlooked area of opportunity for policymakers to support and expand the promising work already happening, ultimately leading to transitions to education, employment, and permanency for justice-involved youth.
Erin Russ is a Program Associate at the American Youth Policy Forum