Criminal Justice Initiatives

Over 600 court-involved youth in nine high-crime and high-poverty communities across the United States have been offered the chance to transform their lives through an enhanced version of YouthBuild’s core program model.  The YouthBuild SMART (Start Making a Real Transformation) Program was a pilot program made possible through a 2011 grant from the US Department of Labor under its ex-offender initiative.

In YouthBuild SMART,  program staff begin building relationships with 16- to 24-year-old young adults inside the walls of correctional facilities prior to their release from incarceration. Upon release, young people are able to join YouthBuild to earn their education credentials and participate in job training activities in the areas of construction, health care, technology, and non-profit service delivery. The YouthBuild SMART program has the flexibility to customize the length of enrollment and daily participation based on the individual young person’s needs, which may include a return to public school or a pathway designed to move quickly towards their education and employment goals. 

This work builds upon a previous $18 million three year Department of Labor grant in which 34 YouthBuild programs documented best practices in working with court involved youth. Impressed by the results of that work, DOL funded an evaluation study of the impact of that pilot initiative.

Through both of these initiatives, YouthBuild USA has developed best practices in serving court-involved youth in areas that include re-entry services, transition planning and behind the walls programming; mentoring of previously incarcerated youth; postsecondary pathways for youth with criminal histories; and employer engagement to support placement of ex-offenders.  These best practices are disseminated to the broader YouthBuild field to improve the support we provide to court-involved YouthBuild students beyond the SMART-funded sites.

The national governments of Mexico and of Panama, in addition to USAID and the USDOS are supporting locally adapted YouthBuild programs to work with incarcerated youth through pre-release programming and to operate community-based YouthBuild programs as re-entry alternatives for youth exiting detention centers.