Low-income communities are often hard-pressed to welcome young people back into the fold of neighborhood life after their involvement in the justice system. Barriers to employment for individuals with criminal records perpetuate community-wide poverty. Without an avenue to economic advancement, these young adults are at risk of raising another generation in poverty. They are also at risk of recidivism: 84% of offenders who were age 24 or younger at the time of release from state prisons were rearrested within five years of release.1
The NYC Justice Corps offers a new model for reentry. The program shifts community members’ perceptions of young adults involved in the justice system and expands the young people’s sense of possibility for their futures.
Our goals are to help young adults end their involvement in the justice system and increase community capacity to reintegrate young people returning from the justice system into civic life and the workforce. To change lives and lift communities, this ambitious model draws from the fields of restorative justice, workforce development, youth development, and recidivism reduction.
The NYC Justice Corps is part of the national Corps Network, a group of 25 civic justice corps programs in which formerly incarcerated and court-involved youth reconnect with their community and find pathways to success through service. “Community service acts as a restorative practice that repairs harm caused by persons under criminal justice supervision to victims and communities and provides a tangible public benefit.”(A Civic Justice Corps: Community Service as Means of Re-integration, Gordon Bazemore and David Karp, 2006.)
By restoring the physical resources and beauty of their neighborhoods through service projects, Corps members make a tangible difference in the life of the community. Beautiful murals in the South Bronx, renovated early childhood development centers in East Harlem, and the restoration of the Afrikan Poetry Project in Jamaica, Queens are just a few examples of what young adults can do for their communities. Justice Corps members completed 160 community benefit projects between 2008 and 2016. Read more about the NYC Justice Corps’ impact on communities.
Community members are enlisted in the process of transformation—as witnesses to the work done by young people and as mentors, advisory board members, and employers. Read more about how to hire a graduate.
Our model integrates several strategies to increase Corps member access to the workforce. For example, Corps members earn a stipend during the intensive phase of the program. Research shows that having a successful workplace experience by age 25 increases the likelihood of a lifetime of financial stability. Wage subsidies, when combined with job development, training and job search assistance, are among the most effective ways to obtain employment for hard to employ, low-skill individuals. Corps members explore career options through their community service—all the while practicing the punctuality, responsibility, and teamwork they will need on the job. The NYC Justice Corps serves as proxy for the social capital that young adults involved in the criminal justice system need to enter the workforce, brokering their contacts with employers and expanding their network of contacts that can lead to employment. Corps members graduate with a resume and references.
“The prevalence of offending tends to…peak in the teenage years (from 15 to 19) and then decline in the early 20s.”2 At the same time that adolescents are engaging in risk-taking behaviors (a typical feature of adolescent development), their capacity for analytical thinking and understanding long-term consequences has not fully matured. It is worth noting that patterns of offending tend to decline in the early twenties, just as the human brain reaches full development at age 25.
With this research in mind, the NYC Justice Corps gives Corps members, ages 18-24, the positive developmental opportunities that all young people need to grow and thrive. We offer a lot of support, and we have high expectations, too. Corps members must fulfill their commitments to learn in the classroom and on their service projects, work as part of a team, and make a contribution to their neighborhood. Corps members bond with caring staff and get connected to a new world of community mentors and employers. “Youth who made a successful adaptation in adulthood despite adversity relied on sources of support within their family and community that increased their competencies and self-efficacy, decreased the number of stressful life events they subsequently encountered and opened up new opportunities for them.” (Resilience and Recovery: Findings from the Kauai Longitudinal Study Emmy Werner, 2005.)
Research on recidivism reduction has found that seven criminogenic factors contribute to an individual’s risk of returning to crime. These factors include anti-social friends and peers, low levels of achievement in school and/or work, and unstructured and anti-social leisure time. The NYC Justice Corps forges positive peer interactions between justice-involved young adults and their community and creates opportunities for them to succeed in academic and professional settings. Motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral interventions, and other evidence based and effective practices are incorporated into the model.