Training for Grassroots Organizations Wanting To Offer Alternatives to Incarceration

Posted May 9, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Community Connections for Youth hosts training institutes for community organizations looking to offer alternatives to incarceration.

Com­mu­ni­ty Con­nec­tions for Youth start­ed its Alter­na­tives to Incar­cer­a­tion Train­ing Insti­tute in 2010 to meet a grow­ing need for com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions that are viable and effec­tive alter­na­tives to con­fine­ment. The insti­tute has since worked with 150 orga­ni­za­tions, offer­ing train­ings two to four times per year to help steer resources into com­mu­ni­ties by build­ing the capac­i­ty of grass­roots organizations.

Most insti­tute par­tic­i­pants come from small, com­mu­ni­ty-led orga­ni­za­tions, like Arthur and Gab­by Sori­ano of Youth Empow­er­ment in San Diego. When they attend­ed the insti­tute in 2015, Youth Empow­er­ment was an all-vol­un­teer orga­ni­za­tion that helped youth and nur­tured fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty con­nec­tions through week­ly bar­be­cues and pic­nics at a local park. The Sori­anos shared an inter­est in help­ing youth and had expe­ri­ence work­ing with young peo­ple in the jus­tice sys­tem, but they need­ed help devel­op­ing their orga­ni­za­tion into a cred­i­ble alter­na­tive to confinement.

The Rev. Rubén Aus­tria, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Com­mu­ni­ty Con­nec­tions for Youth, says these traits are com­mon to insti­tute par­tic­i­pants: These orga­ni­za­tions share a vision that if more and more com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions come togeth­er to help youth, there could be no need for pris­ons.” Aus­tria says orga­ni­za­tions par­tic­i­pat­ing in the insti­tute are often led by cred­i­ble mes­sen­gers” like Sori­ano — peo­ple of col­or with lived expe­ri­ence in the jus­tice sys­tem who are skilled at devel­op­ing trust­ing rela­tion­ships with youth because of their sim­i­lar challenges.

The three-day train­ing insti­tute cov­ers areas where par­tic­i­pants may not be as skilled:

  • the juve­nile jus­tice sys­tem land­scape, includ­ing how to iden­ti­fy ide­al exit points, what makes suc­cess­ful alter­na­tives to con­fine­ment and where alter­na­tives can best plug into the system;
  • the dynam­ics of part­ner­ship, includ­ing how to part­ner with­out becom­ing an exten­sion of the sys­tem, how to advo­cate for youth in court and how to make the case for diver­sion; and
  • pro­gram plan­ning and capac­i­ty, includ­ing how to iden­ti­fy resources, price ser­vices, nego­ti­ate and pre­vent bring­ing young peo­ple deep­er into the sys­tem than they need to go.

Par­tic­i­pants receive a toolk­it that includes tem­plate respons­es to pro­pos­al requests, sam­ple mem­o­ran­da of under­stand­ing and sam­ple contracts.

Sori­ano says the insti­tute helped Youth Empow­er­ment effec­tive­ly deliv­er its mes­sage and estab­lish rela­tion­ships with judges. We start­ed with noth­ing. The insti­tute helped inspire and moti­vate us. It brought cred­i­bil­i­ty to what we were doing.” Since the train­ing, Youth Empow­er­ment has become an inde­pen­dent non­prof­it; has a vari­ety of fund­ing streams; receives reg­u­lar refer­rals from juve­nile court and pro­ba­tion; and par­tic­i­pates in month­ly stake­hold­er meet­ings with the pro­ba­tion depart­ment. Sori­ano also has launched a new orga­ni­za­tion, in part­ner­ship with anoth­er cred­i­ble mes­sen­ger from his neigh­bor­hood, which also receives refer­rals from juve­nile probation.

Nate Balis, direc­tor of the Casey Foundation’s Juve­nile Jus­tice Strat­e­gy Group, says the Alter­na­tives to Incar­cer­a­tion Train­ing Insti­tute fills a gap. As more juris­dic­tions close youth facil­i­ties, we need to increase jus­tice sys­tems’ sup­port of the orga­ni­za­tions that serve young peo­ple in their home com­mu­ni­ties. Strong local orga­ni­za­tions can con­nect youth with pos­i­tive role mod­els and oppor­tu­ni­ties to explore their inter­ests and devel­op their talents.”

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