Youth of Color

Youth in high poverty communities face significant obstacles.  Our work explores the depth of the disadvantaged youth problem in some of the nation's most challenged communities, with particular emphasis on youth of color. We highlight data on youth risk and outcomes in poor communities, elevate sound policy changes to benefit this population, and help communities to take advantage of opportunities at the federal and state level to expand and coordinate services.

Keeping youth on track and broadening their future opportunities requires flexible federal and state policies, adequate funding to meet immense need, and a community-wide approach to implementation that is attentive to the varied needs of a heterogeneous population. Young males of color, in particular, need targeted supports that are both robust and culturally relevant. Establishing a common goal for all youth and coordinating resources and systems to support all aspects of their development will put more young people on a path to solid education, meaningful careers, and eventual self-sufficiency.  Being intentional about strategies to successfully reach and serve youth of color ensures that the system meets the needs of all youth in the community equitably.

Mar 30, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

In 2016, Key Wins for Justice-Involved Youth, but More Work Ahead

By Andrea Amaechi

In the juvenile justice world, 2016 started off with significant wins for young people. President Obama took landmark executive action forbidding solitary confinement of juveniles in federal prisons. In Montgomery v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court made a previous ruling retroactive—affirming that mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles are cruel and unusual punishment and violate the 8th amendment of the Constitution. These actions recognize the vulnerability of youth in penal institutions and that they have lesser culpability than adults for their crimes because of their brain development.

Following these positive developments from the executive and judicial branches, opportunities remain for Congress to follow suit. Bills related to community-based services for justice-involved youth; education and workforce development for currently and formerly incarcerated individuals; and sentencing reform are waiting in Congress to be moved. Proposed legislation includes:

These policies would especially have a tremendous impact on the educational attainment, employment prospects, and well-being of youth of color— particularly African American youth— who experience disparate involvement with the justice system at all levels of contact, and the disparities grow at almost every step. In 2010, African Americans comprised 17 percent of all youth ages 10-17, but accounted for 31 percent of all juvenile arrests. They are more likely to be referred to juvenile court than are white youth, are more likely to be processed rather than diverted, are more likely to be adjudicated delinquent, and are more likely to be sent to secure confinement.

Ultimately, our aim should be to minimize the number of youth who fall into the juvenile justice system in the first place, and a growing entry point to prison is the school. Reforming school and district suspension and expulsion policies, reducing law enforcement and police presence in schools, and investing in support staff—including guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists—is a great place to start. For youth who already have justice system involvement, these actions could prevent further arrests, especially for youth of color who disproportionately experience out-of-school suspensions and expulsions.

For youth who are on probation or parole, strong partnerships between the courts, juvenile and adult justice agencies, and education and workforce development system are key to successfully placing and retaining youth in education and employment pathways. All of these federal bills could promote these partnerships by offering funding streams that can be leveraged. For example, Second Chance Act funds bring together the justice system and workforce development systems in some communities. And restoration of Pell grant eligibility to incarcerated individuals would incentivize postsecondary institutions to develop collaborative programs with penal institutions. Community-based interventions such as the youth opportunity movement have proved to reduce high school dropout, increase Pell grant receipt, boost employment rates, and reduce crime and juvenile delinquency.

The actions of President Obama and the Supreme Court will make a big difference for youth and young adults who are confined in penal institutions. For the significant numbers of youth who are court-involved and in the community, policies aimed at promoting their education, workforce preparation, and employment will go a long way towards unlocking doors of opportunity, ensuring that they can realize their potential, successfully remain in the community, and avoid future arrests or deeper involvement with the justice system. 

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