Young Adult Justice Scholars

The Intervention: Harlem-based education and employment services

Who is Served: Young people age 18-24 with involvement in the criminal justice system in the past year

The Challenge

While youth of color represent about one-third of the national youth population, recent figures show that they represent 61% of detained/incarcerated youth.1 In August 2011, Mayor Bloomberg launched the Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) to tackle the broad disparities slowing the advancement of Black and Latino young men. YMI includes specific initiatives for justice-involved youth. This population faces significant challenges in progressing toward postsecondary education and a career. Only 30% of youth newly released from jail or prison obtain employment or are in school within 12 months,2 and only 17% of incarcerated individuals ever complete any postsecondary education.3 Additionally, they are at a high risk for recidivism—60% of those under age 25 who complete a felony sentence in New York are convicted of an additional crime within five years.4 The challenges experienced by these young people have more than individual consequences. The relationship between race, incarceration, and poverty creates high-incarceration neighborhoods, typically low-income communities of color.

The Justice Scholars Approach

Young Adult Justice Scholars (YAJS) is a voluntary six-month program supporting the educational advancement of young men and women ages 17-24 who have had involvement in the criminal justice system in the past year. Most referrals to YAJS are made by the NYC Department of Probation, NYC Department of Correction, NYS Office of Children and Family Services, and other criminal justice and nonprofit agencies.

The program’s client-centered, risk-responsive approach provides multiple service tracks tailored to participants’ different academic, job-readiness, and maturity levels. YAJS staff work with participants to develop an individualized plan for academic and personal success including ongoing avoidance of recidivism. Program services include:

  • Education: high-school equivalency exam prep and testing, tutoring, and support for applying for and progressing in college
  • Career development: job-readiness classes, paid internships, and summer youth employment
  • Aftercare: support for ongoing education and employment advancement

The Impact

In 2015, YAJS activities and outcomes included the following:

  • Nearly 2,000 hours of case management and counseling services
  • 70% of participants successfully completed YAJS
  • 68% of YAJS graduates earned a high school equivalency diploma or achieved a meaningful education gain


1 Sickmund, M. Sladky, T.J., & Kang, W.(2004). Census of juveniles in residential placement databook. Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. ^

2 Abrams, L.S. & Franke, T.M. (2013). Postsecondary educational engagement among formerly-incarcerated transition-age young men. Journal of Offender Rehabilitation 52(4), 233-253. Retrieved from ^

3 Nemoy, Y. (2013). Promoting postsecondary success of court-involved youth: Lessons from the NYEC Postsecondary Success pilot. Washington, D.C.: National Youth Employment Coalition. Retrieved from ^

4Salo, T. (2013). Results First Business Model: Reducing Unnecessary Confinement while Reducing Crime and Recidivism. NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services Presentation made Feb. 11, 2013. ^