Young people, ages 16 to 24, can face significant barriers to employment once they cross paths with the juvenile or criminal legal system. Accessing supportive services in a community-based setting can help.
This report, released by the Urban Institute, summarizes findings from an exploratory study of community-based workforce development programs. The study involved both a national survey and a series of follow-up interviews with staff members who work with youth who have been adjudicated for or convicted of serious offenses.
Identifying Supports and Strategies
Researchers focused their efforts on supports that are available in a community setting — not in an institution — and asked survey respondents and interviewees to provide information on the strategies they use to engage young people with justice system experience.
Participant answers point to a variety of strategies in use, including engaging in multisector partnerships, offering a wide range of workforce- and non-workforce-related supports, measuring progress and success, blending funding from multiple sources and tailoring services to meet an individual’s unique needs.
A Shared End Goal
Despite utilizing different strategies and structures, the programs surveyed shared the same general aim: To support youth and young adults at a critical time in their lives and help them navigate the range of challenges associated with legal system involvement that can hinder workforce engagement.
The study and its findings underscore the importance of providing flexible service models, building a supportive organizational framework and forging the right partnerships. With the right structure and strategies in place, community-based programs can serve as powerful difference makers and — as the research indicates — help justice-experienced youth set, pursue and achieve their employment goals.
Programs for justice-experienced youth aren't created by accident — they’re intentionally designed
Findings & Stats
Top Support Services
Survey respondents identified the most common program elements offered to justice-experienced youth. These were: job search assistance, career readiness, and soft skill development.
Top Jobs Secured
Researchers identified the most common job placements that workforce development programs secured for legal system-involved youth. These were in: 1) Food preparation; 2) construction and extraction; 3) building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; 4) installation, maintenance and repair; and 5) factory work.
Measures of Success
Workforce development programs serving justice-experienced youth were most likely to define success — and program completion — as securing employment. Beyond a successful job placement, other top programmatic goals involved skill growth and job retention.
Statements & Quotations
Young people have many paths to adulthood, and structural challenges such as poverty and systemic racism can create significant barriers for people navigating those paths. Contact and involvement with the legal system and being adjudicated for or convicted of more serious offenses, in particular, can worsen those challenges.
There is overwhelming support — both in the literature and among the staff who participated in data collection for this project — for using individualized approaches to meet the needs of and serve legal system-involved young people.
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