NYC Justice Corps ‘Won’t Let You Give Up’

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Brooklyn Justice Corps member wearing a sweatshirt designed and silkscreened by Corps members for their community benefit project that addressed homelessness. The mural was created by artist Sophia Dawson. Photo courtesy NYC Justice Corps.

A redesigned New York City program aimed at helping at-risk youth learn work ethics and job skills while performing community service in their neighborhoods helped divert hundreds of young people from further involvement in the justice system, says a report released June 28.

More than half of the 211 young people enrolled in the NYC Justice Corps last year graduated into employment, educational or vocational training/work readiness courses, according to the report by the program’s principal sponsor, the Prisoner Reentry Institute of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The results demonstrate a “promising approach to increasing workforce access for young adults who are on parole or probation or have other involvement in the justice system,” the report says. Some 1,900 youth have passed through the Justice Corps program since it was first launched in 2008, with support from the NYC Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity and the NYC Young Men’s Initiative, among others.

The program, retooled last year to “adapt tested workforce development practices to match the particular needs and experiences of justice-involved young adults,” is targeted in particular at young adults who are on probation or parole, or have been disconnected from education and employment during periods of incarceration.

Harlem Justice Corps members painted the community room at All Souls’ Episcopal Church. Photo courtesy NYC Justice Corps.

Young people involved in the program last year participated in community projects in the city’s five boroughs, ranging from construction and renovation to creating urban gardens—in the process learning the skills and work ethics that will give them a sense of confidence.

“The staff members are amazing here,” one Justice Corps member identified as “Kara” was quoted as saying. “They push you to succeed…. They won’t let you give up – they even showed up at my house to get me out of the bed to get me to come to school.”

The report says the program’s success serves as a model for similar innovations elsewhere based on the concept of “restorative justice.”

Pastor Marva Usher-Kerr of the Tremont United Methodist Church in the South Bronx, which was renovated by Justice Corps members, said that it was important for community members as well as peers to see that youths who would otherwise be on a pipeline to the criminal justice system could be motivated to improve their prospects.

Gymnasium mural at the Claremont Neighborhood Center painted by Bronx Justice Corps. Photo Courtesy NYC Justice Corps

“You give them a chance to prove themselves,” the report quoted her as saying.

According to the report, “Corps members report leaving the program with a changed sense of self and increased confidence as a result of completing their community benefit project,” and their comments “indicate that participation in NYC Justice Corps helps them to internalize a new identity, which contributes not just to success in the program, but to their positive next steps reflected in the program’s outcomes.”

The full report, which will be discussed today at a special program at John Jay, can be read here.

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