Youth reentering the community after serving time in a correctional facility have layers of complex needs. Most have scars from trauma that predates their entry into the juvenile justice system. Many experienced or witnessed violence, for example, or have histories of mental illness or substance use disorders. Research underscores the harm associated with confinement—from disruptions in schooling to sexual victimization. Reentry’s challenges—from finding a job and housing to forging new relationships—can seem insurmountable, especially with a juvenile record.
The factors and circumstances that lead to youth encounters with the juvenile justice system can also increase a young person’s risk for violent or criminal behaviors after they leave confinement (see sidebar). OJJDP supports reentry programs that work to mitigate that risk while easing youth transition from incarceration to community.
When “M” first met David Ruiz, his wraparound case manager from the Youth C.A.N. (Create a New Beginning) reentry program, he was 17 years old and had been confined to a youth residential facility in Harris County, TX, for nearly 9 months. The tattoos on his hands, up one arm, and behind his ear tied him to a past he wanted to leave behind. M and his partner were expecting a baby. He needed to find work.
"By understanding positive youth development, the focus is on their strengths and assets, which in turn shifts [the youth’s] focus and mindset to desiring good life outcomes for themselves."
—Youth C.A.N. Wraparound Case Manager LeDarien Strauss
OJJDP’s Second Chance Act Youth Reentry program allocated $7.5 million in fiscal year 2021 to fund Youth C.A.N., 1 of 20 programs offered by Change Happens!, a community-based agency in Harris County, TX. In fiscal year 2022, OJJDP’s support of efforts to reduce and respond to violence involving youth included:
- A total of $1 million under the Youth Violence Prevention program, funding four project sites.
- Nearly $25 million under the Enhancing School Capacity To Address Youth Violence program, funding 23 project sites and a training and technical assistance provider.
- Nearly $7 million under the Strategies To Support Children Exposed to Violence program, funding seven project sites and training and technical assistance.
Youth C.A.N. assists young people ages 10 to 17 as they transition back to their communities from Harris County’s juvenile detention center or one of its three Juvenile Probation Department facilities. With funding from OJJDP, programs like Youth C.A.N. facilitate successful community reentry by addressing each young person’s unique needs, offering concrete alternatives to negative choices and behaviors, and introducing youth to mentors and others who actively care about the trajectory they choose.
The program takes a culturally competent approach to reentry assistance, offering wraparound case management to youth and their families that begins when youth are still confined. After a needs-based assessment, the case manager, youth, and family members develop an “individual pathway plan” for that child. Case managers emphasize healthy relationships and activities, encouraging youth to develop personal autonomy as they find their place in the community.
Active case management continues for 6 to 12 months after release. Youth receive incentives to reinforce positive, proactive behaviors and recognize milestones. (M received gift cards and tickets to a Houston Astros baseball game.) Youth C.A.N. also facilitates connections to vocational and employment opportunities to help shift a youth’s focus to the future and possibilities for success—an orientation reinforced by mentors. The program emphasizes progress, not perfection.
M’s pathway plan included access to parenting classes, diapers and other baby supplies, and support groups for young families. At his request, M underwent multiple tattoo-removal sessions—performed free of charge—to help increase his confidence and expand career opportunities. He found he could identify with his “credible messenger” mentor, who had also spent part of his youth in detention and identified with M’s challenges.
OJJDP funding ensures that Youth C.A.N. and other reentry programs have necessary resources to support and guide young people like M. Today, he works in construction, regularly attends family counseling, and continues to meet with his mentor. M completed probation in March.
Prolonged and repeated stress often contributes to a young person’s risk for experiencing or engaging in violence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Toxic stress” can arise from numerous issues—including exposure to violence, food insecurity, and mental health struggles—and impact a child’s brain development.
Living in an area with concentrated poverty also increases a youth’s risk for engaging in or experiencing violence. Other community-level risk factors include high levels of transience or lack of economic opportunities. Risk and protective factors at the individual, family, and peer and social levels include: