December 2, 2020 -- At his announcement of his state’s new plan to replace its youth prisons with community-based services, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker introduced 21-year-old Diasee.
“When I was 15, I was charged as an adult after taking the life of another person,” he said. "I grew up in a violent area but that’s not an excuse. I live with what I’ve done every day.”
After a hearing where the charge was changed to a youth offense, Diasee spent five years in three Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ) youth prisons. As part of the plan for him to reenter his community, he began working with Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., a national nonprofit that partners with justice and social services systems in 29 states and the District of Columbia to provide community-based alternatives to youth incarceration and out-of-home placement.
The new IDJJ YAP program is one of six community-based youth justice start-ups across the U.S. funded by the Safely Home Fund, an initiative implemented by YAP in partnership with Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR). YAP and CJJR collaborated to create the unique grant to provide a year of funding to seed innovative community-based rehabilitative services for the highest-risk youth, many whose histories include serious offenses, multiple arrests, and lengthy out-of-home placements.
The Safely Home Fund is part of YAP’s strategy to apply a portion of a generous donation it received from Ballmer Group to invest in a national community-based continuum of care that provides alternatives to youth incarceration and aftercare services that improve re-entry outcomes. Like YAP, CJJR, which is housed in the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, recognizes that while more youth justice systems leaders want reform, there is little infrastructure to support implementing an evidence-informed continuum of care that meets communities’ unique challenges. In addition to improving youth outcomes, the Safely Home Fund aims to provide public safety alternatives that decrease systemic racial disparities.
Early outcomes are consistent with data that comprises YAP’s evidence-base. John Jay College of Criminal Justice research published in 2014 found 86 percent of YAP program participants remain arrest free, and six – 12 months after completing the program, nearly 90 percent of the youth still lived in their communities with less than five percent of participants in secure placement.
“Research teaches us that young people do better when they are supported in their communities. In order to reduce the reliance on incarceration, systems must invest in effective community-based services and approaches that meet the needs of youth and families,” said CJJR Director Michael Umpierre. “Through its unique and innovative approach, YAP has shown that it effectively serves youth with complex needs while promoting public safety. We’re delighted to be partnering with YAP on this important effort.”
“There is more consensus than ever that youth incarceration is part of a failed system – that it’s dangerous, results in poor outcomes, and is very expensive. At the same time, launching new community-based youth incarceration alternatives remains a challenge because youth justice systems allocate most of their budgets to paying for detention, residential placement, and youth prison,” said YAP CEO Jeff Fleischer. “Many communities claim they don’t have the non-profit community-based resources to work with the highest-risk, highest-need young people who are often both child welfare and youth justice-involved. We were very fortunate to partner with Georgetown to utilize the Safely Home Fund to help local governmental agencies work with their communities to launch programs that are effective alternatives to locking these kids up and essentially writing them off.”
The Safely Home Fund request for proposals (RFP) went to more than 1,000 youth justice leaders who have participated in CJJR’s Certificate Programs or Practice Models and demonstrated a commitment to improving outcomes for youth and families. The six grants went to local youth justice, child welfare and probation departments in every U.S. region. Each demonstrated a willingness to rely less on out-of-home placements; an ability to be innovative in their service delivery; a commitment to using their new community-based programming to change their system; and a strategy for sustaining their program after the first-year funding ends. YAP and CJJR worked with the six grant recipients at the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020 to conduct program design meetings with local stakeholders to ensure that their individual programs addressed their community’s specific needs. Each of the six grant-funded programs adheres to the YAP model of hiring and training neighborhood-based Advocates to empower youth and their parents and guardians with accessible tools to achieve their goals and firm their family foundation.
If YAP meets the government partners’ program goals to lower recidivism while relying less on secure placement, the local systems will invest the savings into continuing their community-based programming in years to come.
Alameda County, Ca. Probation Department
"One of Alameda County’s strategic plan goals is to be the safest in the nation. The YAP partnership has proven to be essential in assisting our department reach substantial milestones. Community-based solutions as an alternative to incarceration is a long-standing strategy of our department and one that will remain at the forefront of our mission. We are committed to and support client-based services for our youth and families in a way that is meaningful, respectful and designed to meet their unique needs. Gabby’s story is a clear and encouraging example of that – and we are hopeful that many more of our families will experience similar outcomes."
Vibrant and outgoing, 15-year-old Gabby is embracing her strengths as she has become an advocate for herself and her family. “She has been instrumental in helping her family transition to permanent housing,” said YAP Alameda County Program Director LaTronda Lumpkins. Gabby’s YAP Advocate Lauren Dupree has worked closely with her since the Alameda County Probation Department connected her to the alternative-to-detention program. As part of her work on self-improvement, Gabby reconciled with her victim and has rectified damaged family relationships. Gabby has also become more aware of her academic gifts. She says her favorite subject is biology and that she’s working towards becoming a marine biologist. “It’s Lauren’s diligence and rapport with Gabby that’s helping set her on a good path,” said Lumpkins, who is building a strong team of Advocates, who after a short time have begun producing positive youth outcomes with young people whose challenges are complex.
Fulton County, Ga. Juvenile Court
“YAP is not just another youth program, but an opportunity to give the most at-risk youth the ability to recognize a better path into tomorrow, by connecting with dedicated advocates who offer support and guidance that can change a youth’s outlook on life, in a meaningful way, finding real solutions for life’s challenges.”
At age 15, even in the face of virtual learning brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Demario accomplished something many young people on probation have a tough time doing, especially when they’ve been in detention or otherwise away from their community schools. Demario brought all his grades up from failing to above average. “His mom said he’s not only improved with his classwork, he’s also a lot more social and comfortable going outside without feeling he needs to do something that’ll get him in trouble,” said Fulton County Ga. YAP Program Director Haasan Smith. Smith credits Demario’s Advocate, a retired teacher, for empowering him with an individualized service plan and guiding him towards his goals. “She taught math and just has a real passion for helping kids,” Smith said. “She loves YAP’s flexibility and as a single mom, herself, with a 19-year-old son in college, she has had a great impact on Demario and the other program participants and relates very well with their mothers. This is not hard work; it’s heart work,” he added.
Hamilton County, Ohio Juvenile Court
"The YAP program has been a game-changer in our county. The positive outcomes for youth involved with YAP have far outweighed our challenges.”
It took 16-year-old Jashaun some time to trust his YAP Advocate. “The thing that made the difference was the consistency. No matter how rude, how disinterested he was, I didn’t go away,” said Advocate Vernon Rawls, who grew up near Jashaun’s West Cincinnati neighborhood and still has family there. “It helped that I know the dynamics of the community. I speak the same language, relate to his perspective, identify with his music. “When he stopped calling me, ‘Bruh,’ and it started being, Mr. V., I knew I’d made a breakthrough.” Jashaun’s time in YAP resulted from charges of stealing a car, running from police and possession of a firearm. A few months into his time with YAP, he got another charge - drinking after curfew. Several hearings to determine whether he gets to stay in YAP have been delayed. Each time, Mr. V. has shown up for Jashaun. Meantime, he has continued working closely with Jashaun, focusing on his positive qualities, helping him identify his strengths and connecting him with tools to accomplish his goals. Jashaun wants to be a landlord, so every weekend Rawls takes him to a community marketplace for a supported work job he has carved out for him. Jashaun works with the marketplace building owner to bring vendors in, help them display their products, and assist them in selling their goods to neighborhood consumers. “He’s around scores of entrepreneurs and is now a part of the staff. He sets up and breaks down tents, and he’s learning about the importance of showing up when you’re expected, good customer service and overall accountability,” Rawls said. “I see a lot of changes in him. I hold him accountable and he’s now holding himself accountable, too. He helps his mom with his younger siblings and he’s seeing that he has a lot to offer his family and his community.”
“We expected challenges because the kids we serve are the ones a lot of people give up on. One had a brother and two best friends who were killed this year,” said Hamilton County YAP Program Director Nathaniel Lett. “But there were also challenges we never could have expected. The mom of one of our youths sent him to live in another city when she tested positive for COVID. But I have a great team of Advocates who let the youth we serve know we won’t give up on them, and that goes far.”
Yavapai County, Az Juvenile Probation Department
“The Yavapai County Juvenile Probation Department is grateful for the opportunities offered through Youth Advocate Programs (YAP). Collaboration with YAP and on-going work between YAP mentors and kids/families in need has proven to fill a gap that had previously gone unfulfilled. As exemplified by the case of Ayden, described above, we have seen our kids involved with YAP mentors flourish and avoid further system involvement which is in alignment with Georgetown University’s Crossover Youth Program Model. We are optimistic that the work spearheaded by YAP will continue moving forward in Yavapai County.”
In October, 16 year-old-Ayden completed his program with YAP a month ahead of schedule. The graduation -- one of many goals Ayden accomplished during his time in the program -- marked the end of three years of living in group homes, arrests, anger, and pain. Ayden’s life turned upside down at age nine when he lost his father to suicide and social services placed him and his younger sister with his grandparents. He started going to counseling and saw his mother only during supervised visits. By age 14, he’d lost interest in school where, as a young child, he’d thrived. He got involved in drugs and was arrested several times and placed on probation. By the time Ayden met his YAP Advocate Daniel Nash, he’d been in and out of drug treatment and was consumed with family conflict. Nash worked closely with Ayden, empowering him with skills to reaffirm his strengths -- his intelligence, love of hockey and desire to work. In partnership with Ayden’s probation officer, Nash supported his decision to begin a temporary job assignment and accelerate his education, first by doubling up on schoolwork and later by completing his GED. This helped Ayden transition to a full-time job, enroll in community college, buy a cell phone, resume contacts with friends, get a driver’s license, and complete probation early. Next step for Ayden: going on an out-of-state road trip with his grandfather to purchase the truck he’ll be driving on the path he’s paving towards independence, stability, and joy.
"Many of our program participants are from rural areas spread out throughout our huge county and one from a mining community in the farthest most western part of Yavapai County. We are also now serving several young people from the Yavapai Apache Nation as well," said Yavapai county YAP Program Director Patty Delp. “We get to know some of our young people visiting them while they are in detention completing the Journey drug and alcohol probation program while they're detained. But the work happens during the time they’re with us outside of detention, in the community, with their families.”
Mecklenburg County, NC Criminal Justice Services
"YAP advocates are literally living life with our highest risk youth. Our juveniles trust and bond with their advocates in ways that impact the kids to make better decisions, resulting in lower substance use and early probation terminations. It is now difficult for me to imagine our local juvenile justice system without YAP."
Omariyhon is a favorite employee at Nick and Mike’s Bar and Grill in Charlotte. A quiet 16-year-old, he wanted to quit when he first got the job. “I’m the youngest person there and I felt like everybody was getting on me,” he said. “Now everybody says I’m a good worker. I clean the kitchen, bus tables – sometimes cook. I’m quick, responsible and do what I’m told.” Omariyhon has been away from work for a couple of weeks, recovering from a bullet wound to his head, the result of a drive-by shooting at his home. The shooting has been his biggest lesson since entering YAP after a drug-related offense that nearly resulted in him taking someone’s life. Omariyhon credits his Advocate Montaze McRae for helping him see his strengths and realize he has options. Among other things, McRae connected Omariyhon to his buddies who own Nick and Mike’s. “Montaze is a good person,” Omariyhon said. “We have a lot of one on one talks.” Inspired by the changes in her son, Omariyhon’s mother earned her GED in 30 days. Then the drive-by happened and she had to uproot the family. She said YAP helped her put together a deposit for another rental. But she’s especially thankful for what YAP and McRae have done for her son.
“Montaze has been a real straight up guy; he showed Omariyhon genuine care and I really appreciate it,” she said. Still recuperating from the gunshot wound, Omariyhon is anxious to get back to work. He’ll soon complete his time with YAP, which means the supported work job will end. But Omariyhon is aware of his value to the restaurant and looks forward to being ready to be hired full-time. “My goal is just to stay out of the way and make money,” he said.
“The Advocates on my team go into the toughest neighborhoods and everybody knows them. They use all their contacts and resources to make sure the youth have the tools they need to succeed,” said YAP Mecklenburg County Program Director Malik Glover.
Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice
“YAP is an integral part of IDJJ’s shift from a legacy corrections model to a community integrated, restorative, and rehabilitative residential model. Piloting a community-based intensive wraparound service for youth as an alternative to secure custody or traditional Aftercare services proved what is possible for youth at IDJJ when the department invests in youth and their communities.
Diasee works closely with his YAP Advocate Omar Yamini. Author of What's Wrong with You! What You, Your Children and Our Students Need to Know About: My 15 Year Imprisonment from Age 20-35, Yamini relates well to Diasee’s re-entry experience. After learning the young man wanted to become a youth justice advocate, Yamini connected him to educational and career opportunities in the field. He also made sure Diasee’s mother had resources she needed to support her son at home. By the time he spoke at the governor’s event, Diasee had received ten months of YAP services and completed many of the goals he established working with Yamini. During his speech, Diasee shared the one he’s most proud of. “With Omar’s encouragement, I applied for and was accepted at NIU [Northern Illinois University],” he said. Without IDJJ’s YAP program, Diasee would have spent most of the time that he was with YAP still incarcerated, followed by additional time in the adult probation system.
“We are proud to be able to work with IDJJ to begin to transform the state’s youth justice system from one that relies on incarceration to a community-based model that is safer for youth, families and communities, is more racially equitable, and leads to better youth outcomes,” said Chicago YAP IDJJ Project Program Director Donavan Burgs.
Learn more about YAP at yapinc.org. Learn more about CJJR at cjjr.georgetown.edu.
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