In 2017, Loyola University Chicago’s Center for Criminal Justice Research released its National Scan of Emerging Adult Policy, Practice and Programs which exposed the lack of specialized services for justice impacted young adults. Since then, there have seen substantial improvements in services for young adults across the justice spectrum, most notably in diversion programs, an area where the scan had identified “no arrest diversion policy or programs focusing on the unique characteristics and needs of young adults.”
Building on this momentum, NLC & Loyola University created the Young Adult Justice Community of Practice (YAJCOP) which recently released its Young Adult Justice Continuum. YAJCOP is a group of city, county and state stakeholders from across the country who develop strategies to address disproportionate rates of arrest and jailing of young adults and racial and ethnic disparities. The continuum graphic identifies key components, players, and services needed to ensure the best possible outcome for justice-involved young adults and is grouped into three categories (no-entry, system involved, and reentry/reintegration).
Examples of local initiatives that fall into each category include:
- No Entry – Cook County Felony Diversion
Overall, diversion and other No Entry efforts attempt to ensure that young people are diverted from justice system involvement whenever possible and that any diversion programs or services are appropriately tailored to meet the needs of young adults (18- 26 in Cook County).
- System Involved –D.C. Dept. of Corrections Young Men Emerging Unit (YME)
System-involved interventions occur when young people have already entered the justice system. At YME, -where I was a mentor while incarcerated-a specialized unit and programming is provided for young men ages 18-25.
- Reentry/Reintegration – PowerCorpsPHL (specifically- the T.R.U.S.T program)
Reentry/Reintegration begins upon (or just before) release from jail/prison. PowerCorpsPHL’s T.R.U.S.T. is an initiative for young adult returning residents (18-28), providing opportunities for immediate engagement & income, group work, and community building in preparation for entering work-readiness and job training.
Roca meets young people at whichever point across the continuum that they fall- relentlessly engaging with the most at-risk and high-risk young men.
It is important to note that these are specialized services to address the unique position of this group, (also referred to as emerging adults), whose needs are often neglected before and after contact with the criminal justice system. Neuroscience indicates that brain development extends beyond the teen years up to age 25, however state laws generally consider adulthood to begin at 17 or 18 years old. It is promising to see some localities address this gap by raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction, but we need more efforts across the country at the local and state level.
Justice reform for young adults should not be an exception or an afterthought. Reimagining Public Safety Task Force members Council President Nikki Fortunato-Bas of Oakland, Mayor Scott of Baltimore and DC councilmember Lewis-George have all stressed the importance of engaging youth and young adults in conversations and in the planning and implementation of new initiatives.
If you are a municipal leader looking to ensure that your public safety policies truly ensure positive outcomes for all, I urge you to consider implementing programs that include specialized services for young adults. Having a seat at the table for those most affected by any policy change, is a must.
If you are a municipal leader making or looking to make changes to your reentry programs, we want to hear from you.