Five Keys to Boosting Employment for Youth With Justice System Involvement

Posted October 11, 2023
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
three young people of color stand in a room; they are all wearing scrubs and each has a stethoscope around their neck.

A new report explores how to pro­mote work­force devel­op­ment and job oppor­tu­ni­ties for youth with jus­tice sys­tem involve­ment. Cross-Sys­tems Col­lab­o­ra­tive Approach­es to Pro­mote Work­force Devel­op­ment for Youth With Jus­tice Involve­ment looks at how local col­lab­o­ra­tives sought to address the bar­ri­ers to oppor­tu­ni­ty faced by youth with jus­tice sys­tem involve­ment. Based on a joint project of the Nation­al Youth Employ­ment Coali­tion and the Urban Insti­tute, the report exam­ines the efforts of five sites:

  • Tulare Coun­ty, California
  • Den­ver, Colorado
  • Hart­ford, Connecticut
  • Louisville, Ken­tucky
  • Man­ches­ter, New Hampshire

Draw­ing on pub­lic health mod­els aimed at reduc­ing risk and increas­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple, each col­lab­o­ra­tive includes rep­re­sen­ta­tives from com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions, non­prof­it ser­vice providers, the jus­tice sys­tem and business.

A take­away for agen­cies and their part­ners is to think about the oppor­tu­ni­ties they want for young people,”says Bur­gun­di Alli­son, asso­ciate direc­tor for diver­sion and pre­ven­tion at the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion which fund­ed the report. How can they push past tra­di­tion­al silos to achieve that lev­el of access for all kids, includ­ing those with sys­tem involvement?”

Improv­ing Work­force Devel­op­ment for Youth With Jus­tice Sys­tem Involvement

To gen­er­ate the report, researchers sought input from both col­lab­o­ra­tive mem­bers and young pro­gram par­tic­i­pants. These con­ver­sa­tions revealed five themes that can help improve job mar­ket oppor­tu­ni­ties for youth with jus­tice sys­tem involvement:

  1. Apply­ing data to deci­sion mak­ing. Each col­lab­o­ra­tive gen­er­ates and uses data to inform its work and track out­comes for pro­gram par­tic­i­pants. The Hart­ford col­lab­o­ra­tive cre­at­ed a spe­cif­ic work­ing group to ana­lyze data gen­er­at­ed by local gov­ern­ment agen­cies and non­prof­it ser­vice providers. This data shar­ing and inte­gra­tion allowed the col­lab­o­ra­tive to iden­ti­fy gaps in pro­gram­ming and sug­gest areas for future improvement.
  2. Adopt­ing a strong cross-sys­tem approach. Stake­hold­ers who are engaged across sys­tems, address­ing chal­lenges and offer­ing solu­tions, ulti­mate­ly dri­ve more effec­tive results. The col­lab­o­ra­tive in Tulare Coun­ty cre­at­ed a shared case man­age­ment process, which helped referred youth receive ser­vices in a time­ly man­ner. The num­ber of refer­rals to the collaborative’s pro­grams has increased, and few­er youth on pro­ba­tion report dif­fi­cul­ties access­ing need­ed services.
  3. Employ­ing inno­v­a­tive engage­ment strate­gies. Reach­ing young adults with jus­tice sys­tem involve­ment can be daunt­ing. The Man­ches­ter col­lab­o­ra­tive used police depart­ment data to devel­op a peer net­work­ing strat­e­gy. The end goal? Encour­age youth to seek need­ed ser­vices, includ­ing a com­mu­ni­ty-based work­force pro­gram. This approach enables youth with jus­tice sys­tem expe­ri­ence to hear from trust­ed peers, lend­ing an air of cred­i­bil­i­ty to the collaborative’s ser­vice providers.
  4. Struc­tur­ing the Work. A collaborative’s oper­a­tions hinge on many fac­tors, includ­ing the region­al needs of employ­ers, fun­der inter­ests and the local chal­lenges faced by youth with jus­tice sys­tem involve­ment. Experts rec­om­mend a for­mal method of account­abil­i­ty for col­lab­o­ra­tive mem­bers to ensure the accu­rate deliv­ery of pro­gram ser­vices. This move can be as sim­ple as devel­op­ing a mem­o­ran­dum of under­stand­ing to detail goals and inter­nal metrics.
  5. Estab­lish­ing Shared Goals. Set­ting spe­cif­ic, mea­sur­able and attain­able goals helps to keep col­lab­o­ra­tives focused on their col­lec­tive objec­tives. The goals set by each col­lab­o­ra­tive dri­ve the partnership’s work, with some focus­ing on increased youth employ­ment and oth­ers seek­ing to curb youth violence.

Address­ing Young Peo­ple’s Bar­ri­ers to Opportunity

While each site has its own approach to address­ing bar­ri­ers fac­ing youth with jus­tice sys­tem involve­ment, their part­ner­ships have key fea­tures in com­mon, including:

  • a defined set of out­come measures;
  • the sup­port of pub­lic systems;
  • com­mu­ni­ty involvement;
  • plans for sus­tained efforts; and 
  • a col­lab­o­ra­tive deci­sion-mak­ing approach that engages youth leaders.

Anoth­er shared char­ac­ter­is­tic among the five sites is the impor­tance of joint­ly deter­min­ing goals with the com­mu­ni­ty and the youth served. The Tulare Coun­ty col­lab­o­ra­tive, for exam­ple, incor­po­rates youth voic­es in its work by man­dat­ing that many of its deci­sions first be con­sid­ered by the its youth com­mit­tee before receiv­ing final approval.

To cre­ate path­ways of oppor­tu­ni­ty for youth affect­ed by the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem, we must address the very real obsta­cles that exist when they enter the work­force — arrest his­to­ries com­pound­ed by lim­it­ed access to edu­ca­tion­al and work­force devel­op­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties,” Alli­son says.

Explore a col­lec­tion of work­force devel­op­ment and juve­nile jus­tice publications

Popular Posts

View all blog posts   |   Browse Topics

Youth with curly hair in pink shirt

blog   |   June 3, 2021

Defining LGBTQ Terms and Concepts

A mother and her child are standing outdoors, each with one arm wrapped around the other. They are looking at each other and smiling. The child has a basketball in hand.

blog   |   August 1, 2022

Child Well-Being in Single-Parent Families