Building Pathways to Postsecondary Education for Youth Involved in the Justice System

Youth involved with the justice system face significant challenges. Of those sentenced to a residential facility, 50 percent will return within three years of release.[1] Additionally, only 30 percent are employed or in school within 12 months of release.[2]  Given these challenges, the American Youth Policy Forum hosted a recent Webinar entitled, “Building Pathways to Postsecondary Education for Youth Involved in the Justice System.” The Webinar highlighted programs designed to connect youth involved in the justice system with postsecondary success. Speakers included Yelena Nemoy, Project Manager at the National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC); Sophia Morel, Director of Youth Services at the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES); and Patricia Gill, Senior Program Associate at the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL).   

Yelena Nemoy discussed NYEC’s recent report, Promoting Postsecondary Success of Court-Involved Youth, and provided a framework for successful strategies to engage court-involved youth. In 2009, NYEC began working with ten community-based programs that support youth age 16-24 through transitions to postsecondary opportunities.  This Postsecondary Success Initiative (PSI) revealed several important features of successful programs to support court-involved youth:

  • Academic supports and college navigation
  • Peer mentoring
  • Intensive case management
  • Sealing and expunging juvenile court records
  • Partnerships between youth-serving agencies

Sophia Morel highlighted CASES’ Alternative to Incarceration  (ATI) and Next Steps programs. ATI is designed to provide an alternative to incarceration for youth whose cases are pending in family court. Youth are referred to CASES through the NYC Department of Probation and receive the opportunity to continue their education rather than experience the disruption that occurs with incarceration. The Next Steps program is intended to provide continuing supports for youth in CASES through education and career counseling as well as social support services. Programs through CASES provide a variety of supports, including financial assistance, academic counseling, and on-going case management. Morel also noted that these supports for court-involved youth are possible because of partnerships with juvenile courts, educational agencies, community-based organizations, and workforce entities. 

Finally, Patricia Gill provided an overview of IEL’s Guideposts for Success, released through IEL’s National Collaborative on Workforce and Disabilities (NCWD). The Guideposts provide a framework for connecting all students, students with disabilities, and students involved in the justice system with postsecondary success.  A key feature of the Guideposts is recognition that youth involved in the justice system often overlap with other special populations, especially students with disabilities. The Guideposts for supporting youth through postsecondary transitions include:

  • School-Based Preparatory Experiences
  • Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences
  • Youth Development and  Leadership
  • Connecting Activities
  • Family Involvement and  Supports

In conclusion, Gill noted the need for collaboration between youth-serving systems, businesses, and families to support youth, especially those involved in the justice system.

Erin Russ is a program associate at the American Youth Policy Forum.

[1] . Gorgol, L.E. and Sponsler, B.A. (2011). Unlocking Potential: Results of a National Survey of Postsecondary Education in State Prisons. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Higher Education Policy.

[2] Altschuler, D., Stangler, G., Berkley, K., and Burton, L. (2009). Supporting Youth in Transition to Adulthood: Lessons Learned from Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Public Policy Institute.


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