Media Highlights

We can’t afford to sideline our young talent

by Russell Krumnow   •  

One of the groups most at risk for disconnection from critically important education and career pathways are the millions of young adults who have spent time in the juvenile or adult justice systems.

Each day in the United States, 2.2 million people are incarcerated, including a million young Americans under the age of 30.

An estimated 200,000 youth under age 18 are sent into the adult criminal justice system each year, often for misdemeanor offenses.

And 57,000 teens are held in juvenile detention facilities on any given day.

These young Americans face incredibly steep odds when they are released. The stigma of incarceration makes it hard to even get job interviews. And many youth in confinement do not have access to education and skills training, putting them at a huge disadvantage when they re-enter their communities and try to rebuild their lives.

Yet our neighborhoods, communities and businesses cannot afford to lose this talent. We all benefit when young adults are connected to education and employment opportunities.

That’s why we highlighted this important population in our call-to-action to tackle youth unemployment: We Got This, and why Opportunity Nation’s diverse coalition supports bipartisan legislation aimed at reforming our criminal justice system, particularly for young, nonviolent offenders.

This issue affects all of us. We all pay the price for youth disconnection in wasted talent, diminished communities, lost earnings and tax revenues, and increased social services.

A recent report found that locking up just one juvenile costs $148,767 a year.

Research shows that young adults involved in the juvenile justice system are disproportionately low income and minority, are diagnosed with learning disabilities, and have experienced abuse and other forms of hardship. Further, the majority – at least two-thirds – are incarcerated or placed in confinement for nonviolent offenses.

Youth justice is one of the biggest civil rights issues of our time and requires innovative cross-sector solutions.

Across the country, states are changing laws to prevent juveniles from entering the adult justice system and to provide alternatives to incarceration for young, nonviolent offenders. Philanthropies are supporting groundbreaking work to help at-risk youth avoid the justice system and to assist young adults with re-entry into their communities after confinement. Education leaders are helping at-risk youth avoid suspension and confinement and ensuring that post-adjudicated youth get the chance to gain transferrable skills and reintegrate into society.

Opportunity Nation is proud to collaborate with partners who are focused on the issues of youth justice and criminal justice reform:

  • Roca, Inc., a Boston-based nonprofit, works to help at-risk young men and women stay out of jail, get good jobs and create better futures for themselves. The organization helps to reduce recidivism by helping young adults who have been involved in the juvenile or adult justice systems re-enter their communities and gain valuable life and job skills.
  • CEO, the Center for Employment Opportunities, finds jobs and offers job training for men and women who are returning home from prison. CEO’s target population are young people at the highest risk for re-incarceration, particularly young adults ages 18-25. The program operates in 10 cities across New York, California and Oklahoma and plans to expand into Philadelphia.
  • Monroe Community College’s Court to College Program is an innovative partnership with the City Courts in Rochester New York designed to reduce recidivism and help nonviolent offenders get education and job skills. New York is a leader in implementing drug courts, which allow nonviolent to enter into court-supervised treatment. In 2013, an educational component was added to the program and MCC began offering GED and TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion) preparation courses for offenders in drug, mental health and veteran’s courts. Course goals include helping students build their academic skills in preparation for the GED or TASC exam, and supporting their subsequent enrollment at MCC.

Visit our new Youth Justice page to find out more about this important issue and its connection to youth disconnection.

Russell Krumnow Russell Krumnow is the Managing Director of Opportunity Nation and works with more than 350 partner organizations to advance policy change and community actions that expand economic opportunity across the country. Read Russell's bio.

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