Involving previously incarcerated young people in the community can have a tremendous impact on their future success: Research consistently shows that connecting youth with mentors, education and/or employment opportunities can greatly reduce recidivism and help to re-integrate them.
Connecting Reclaiming Futures youth with mentorships, employment opportunities and other pro-social activities is something that all of our sites are committed to and have seen tremendous success with. Just two recent examples of these include Montgomery County, Ohio, bringing together court-involved young people for a community mural project, and El Paso, Texas, supporting teens who worked together to build an award-winning Thanksgiving float.
Recently featured on the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, the Corps Network has launched a new initiative with a mission to achieve similar success through integrating court-involved teens into the community: the Opportunity Youth Service Initiative (OYSI).
The Corps Network, a network of about 120 conservation corps across the nation that together marshal 23,000 young people a year, involves teens in the community through service work and provides them with the tools they need for continued success.
Last year, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the Corporation for National and Community Service provided funding for the Corps Network to launch the OYSI Initiative with the goal of focusing on formerly incarcerated or court-involved young people.
More than 60 percent of all youth crime can be attributed to “disconnected” young people—meaning people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in school or employed. The Corps Network calls these young people by a different name: “Opportunity Youth,” hence the initiative’s name, because when we don’t invest in their futures and help them get back on track, it means millions of missed opportunities.
“Service is really a great strategy to re-engage court-involved youth,” said Mary Ellen Sprenkel, president and CEO of the Corps Network. “It’s an opportunity to advance their education and gain job skills. It allows them to reintegrate into the community in a really positive way,” she said.
Over three years, OYSI plans to enroll around 600 young people. An OYSI crew just started work this summer after obtaining certifications in chainsaw use and wilderness first aid, certifications that make them more employable, said Naomi Galimidi, development director of the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps.
Additional professional credentials that teens can potentially gain through the Corps Network programs can include Occupational Safety and Health Administration certification, wildland firefighting, Building Performance Institute energy efficiency certification, hazardous materials certification and Americans with Disabilities Act Trail design certification.
Learn more about these programs on the Corps Network website.