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New issue brief: Afterschool and the juvenile justice system

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New issue brief: Afterschool and the juvenile justice system

COVID-19 has created a number of challenges for millions of families and exacerbated existing inequities, leaving certain groups more vulnerable than others to the harmful effects of the pandemic. This week, we are turning our attention toward celebrating the ways that afterschool programs across the country have stepped in to provide resources and services to their families and communities, especially those facing this disparate impact. One of these vulnerable populations are youth involved with the juvenile justice system and it is more important than ever to think about ways that we can support these youth.

In the United States, involvement with the juvenile justice system can have a long-lasting negative impact on a person’s life and opportunities can be limited. Research has shown that youth who are incarcerated are less likely to graduate from high school and are more likely to be incarcerated as an adult. Additionally, a prior criminal record may prevent youth from being able to access important supports, such as financial aid, and may preclude them from gaining entrance to colleges and universities, as well as certain career tracks.

At the same time, youth involved with the justice system are most often those who are in need of additional supports, including mental health services, supplemental academic support, and connection to positive adult mentors. The out-of-school time space has a vital role to play in leveraging their programming and resources to reach students that are currently involved or at risk of becoming involved with the juvenile justice system. The Afterschool Alliance is releasing a new issue brief today, “From Prevention to Diversion: The Role of Afterschool in the Juvenile Justice System,” which dives into some of the different ways that afterschool and summer learning programs can support these youth and help reframe and redirect their futures.

The brief provides a framework for understanding what this involvement can look like for different programs, identifying a spectrum of support that many programs already provide. These outlined categories of programming build off of each other, from the more general to more intensive, based on a number of factors, including the program’s capacity, structure, and partnerships with other groups working with at-risk or justice-involved youth.

  • Prevention: This is the most universal category of involvement—afterschool programs can help keep youth out of the juvenile justice system by supporting the development of protective factors, such as positive self-concept, interpersonal skills, and ability to make responsible decisions, and providing protective factors, including access to caring mentors and a safe and supportive environment. For example, Burlington Expanded Learning Opportunities in Vermont has instituted restorative practices into their programming to help their youth build coping strategies, emotional regulation, and community-building skills. DRAGG (Drag Racing Against Gangs & Graffiti), a program in Oxnard, California, teaches youth about creative car customization and the automotive industry, connects youth with supportive mentors, and creates pathways for their future careers.
  • Targeted Programming: Building off of the base level of prevention, this is a more specialized approach, in which programs intentionally reach out in the community to connect with youth that are at-risk of system involvement. For example, programs may accept referrals from community partners and law enforcement agencies. Promise South Salt Lake in Utah accepts referrals from partners including teachers, social workers, members of the faith communities, and law enforcement, and their programming then connects youth with academic support, prevention programs, service learning opportunities, and college preparation and career-planning programs.
  • Diversion: This is the most intensive category of involvement. Diversion programs are an alternative to out-of-home placements or typical probation programs and focus on connecting youth with resources and supports that help address root causes of their behavior, redirect them, and prevent future offending. These programs can vary in structure and approach. For example, the Center for Restorative Youth Justice in Kalispell, Montana, takes a restorative justice approach and connects youth and the community through afterschool workshops and events; Evolution Youth Services in Denver, Colorado, connects youth to mental health supports by combining therapeutic techniques with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

The issue brief spotlights these five different afterschool programs that are on this continuum of support. Each offers a unique perspective on how to think about the different ways to best support youth, foster resiliency, and create opportunities to build protective factors.

To learn more about ways that afterschool and summer learning programs can play a role in keeping young people out of the juvenile justice system, check out the new issue brief here. To learn even more and hear directly from some of the programs featured in the brief, register to attend our upcoming webinar on June 4.

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