The Intervention: Alternative to incarceration for youth and young adults
Who is Served: Young people age 15-24 facing felony charges in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens
For a young person, the experience of incarceration can result in significant trauma, permanently disrupt traditional youth development activities including education, and increase the likelihood of future arrest. Those young people who do become justice-involved tend to be overwhelmingly Black or Hispanic and male. Many of these youth have grown up in challenging family situations in neighborhoods with disproportionately high levels of crime and poverty. They have often become disconnected from school, falling far behind their age-level peers in critical literacy and math skills. Further, among incarcerated youth, national studies have found that more than 50% met criteria for a mental disorder and 60% met criteria for a substance use disorder.1
This population faces particularly daunting challenges in the New York City jail system. New York remains one of only two states nationwide to automatically treat youth as young as age 16 as adults in the criminal justice system. Further, according to a report by the U.S. District Attorney, the Rikers Island correctional facility is particularly dangerous for incarcerated youth, who experience “a pattern and practice of conduct at Rikers that violates [their] constitutional rights . . . including serious physical harm from the rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force by [correctional] staff.”2 Given the realities of the correctional experience, it is perhaps not surprising that only 30% of youth newly released from jail/prison obtain employment or are in school within 12 months.3 Incarceration also fails to prevent future crime: 60% of those under age 25 who complete a felony jail sentence in New York are convicted of an additional crime within five years.4
The CEP Approach
The Court Employment Project (CEP) provides an alternative to jail and prison for young people age 16-24 facing felony charges in New York City. Our staff identify and advocate for appropriate youth to be diverted by judges to CEP services in the community. Based on comprehensive assessments, CEP staff work with participants to develop highly-individualized, risk-responsive program plans. CEP typically lasts 6-12 months. From the first day of services, participants focus on their eventual transition, including preparing for postsecondary opportunities such as college or long-term employment.
To help youth build better futures, CEP emphasizes youth accountability and choice so participants develop the responsibility, independence, and resilience they will need to avoid a prolonged cycle of justice involvement. CEP services include
- court advocacy and community supervision
- academic, job-readiness, and life skills education
- behavioral health services including substance abuse monitoring and counseling
- community service
CEP helps youth to build new skills and access real opportunities for advancement, including through onsite high school equivalency (HSE) prep and testing along with placement in paid internships and jobs. CEP is also equipped to serve young people with especially challenging mental health symptoms and accepts youth who have not yet reached trial—as an alternative to detention—in an effort to positively influence eventual sentencing decisions.
At program intake, about 75% of CEP participants are assessed to be at a medium to very high risk of re-offending within one year. Despite these high risk levels, 55-60% of CEP youth successfully complete the program every year, thereby fulfilling their court obligations and avoiding incarceration. Among those who complete the program, nearly 90% have avoided any new conviction within two years of completing CEP. Recent studies estimate programs like CEP that reduce recidivism and divert youth from incarceration can save taxpayers $8 in correctional costs for every $1 invested.5