Access to Education and the Workforce for Formerly Incarcerated Youth
By Andrew Mulinge and Andrea Barnes
For youth who have been incarcerated, returning to the community is a difficult process. Youth must adjust to being back at home with family and friends while attempting to re-enter school or find employment. Unfortunately, many young people encounter major roadblocks along the way, such as lost school credits or inability to find a job. For youth who are also parenting, there is the added stress of being providing for a child. These youth need a range of comprehensive supports and services to successfully transition after incarceration and progress into adulthood.
Across the country, communities are utilizing federal funds through the Second Chance Act to deliver effective re-entry programs for youth. Passed in 2008, the Second Chance Act allocates federal grants to state and local agencies and nonprofit organizations to provide support strategies and services that improve outcomes for people returning from prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities. The Second Chance Reauthorization Act (S. 1690), which is under consideration in Congress, would extend the grants for another five years, making much-needed resources available to communities.
Because juvenile justice systems are regionally operated, there are vast differences in data collection methods; as a result, there is no national data on recidivism rates. However, there is available information about the nature of juvenile offenses that sheds light on the needs of these youth. Of the 70,792 juveniles incarcerated in 2010, 11,604 (16 percent) were incarcerated on the basis of technical violations, such as not fulfilling the requirements of their probation or parole, as opposed to committing another crime. Many youth are also incarcerated for non-violent offenses. More than 3,000 juveniles are detained for “status” offenses, which is defined by the U.S. Department of Justice as “behaviors that are not law violations for adults, such as running away, truancy, and incurability.”
Programs that provide rehabilitative support for previously delinquent youth are proven to help reduce rates of recidivism. Between 2007 and 2010, South Carolina experienced a 17.9 percent decrease in its overall recidivism rate for all individuals incarcerated. Programs funded by the Second Chance Act contributed to its decrease.
We know a lot about which have been successful. As many as 75 percent of incarcerated youth have mental health disorders and about 20 percent have a severe disorder. Thus, any program aimed at providing services to returning youth must address their psycho-social needs. According to a study done by the Peabody Research Institute, counseling interventions have had the largest positive effects on youth, with recidivism decreasing by 13 percent, followed by multiple coordinated services (12 percent) and skill building programs (12 percent).
Many of the counseling programs that have yielded the most effective outcomes for youth focus on group-oriented philosophies, mentoring, and had a combination of various types of counseling. However, programs that focused solely on disciplinary approaches showed an 8 percent increase in recidivism. For older youth, connection to employment or the workforce system is also crucial to preventing relapse into criminal behavior.
The Second Chance Act has helped change the lens of service delivery for formerly incarcerated youth. The demonstration programs it has funded show that addressing the physical and social needs of youth is far more effective than the tactics used by historically disciplinarian programs. Second Chance Act-funded programs have kept youth out of the system and engaged them in school and the workforce. Moreover, they have also benefited society at large by decreasing the crime rate, improving public safety, and lowering state Corrections costs.