KIDS COUNT Snapshot: Report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds dramatic drop in youth incarceration rate

According to an article by SparkAction, a new KIDS COUNT data snapshot released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that the U.S. youth confinement rate is at a 35-year-low. This decline signals opportunity for alternative, more effective responses to court-involved youth. 

As stated in the report, Reducing Youth Incarceration in the United States, America's rate of locking up young people has dropped by more than 40 percent over a 15-year period, with no decrease in public safety.

The number of young people in correctional facilities in a single day fell to 70,792 in 2010, from a high of 107,637 in 1995. This downward trend, documented in data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Census of Juveniles in Residential Placement, has accelerated in recent years. 

Despite this sharp decline, the United States still leads the industrialized world in locking up its young people...

Click here to read SparkAction's full coverage of the Report.

How AmeriCorps helped Ladine Daniels find personal success

Sadly, Ladine "JR" Daniels passed away in his sleep in early November 2014. JR was a loved and respected member of the Corps community. He will be greatly missed. Click to read our tribute to JR.
 


Content below originally published in February 2013 
 

JR, formerly a Corpsmember with the Sustainability Institute, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2012 for his commitment to service and self improvement. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about JR and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2012 national conference.

Where does Ladine “JR” Daniels see himself in the future?

For starters, he plans to have his weatherization business, IMSEI (IM Southeastern Independence), off the ground within the next two years. He hopes his future is full of opportunities to learn new and better ways he can help people in his community save money and the environment. Unrelated to growing his business, his main goal is to become known in his community as someone who works to expand opportunities for youth.

“I want to become a mentor to kids who are heading down the path that I went down,” said JR. “I want to let them know that it’s not worth it.”

Earlier in his life, JR was convicted of a felony and served time in jail. He was content to accept his jail sentence so he could have a clear slate and start over again once he was released. However, after completing his sentence in 2009, JR realized that starting over again wasn’t so easy for a young man with a record.

With the help of his church in Charleston, South Carolina, JR connected with Pastor Larry Bratton, who at the time was in charge of a nonprofit called BDB (Breaking Down Barriers). BDB, which helps community members overcome barriers to employment or services, helped JR find his first stable job after his release. However, Larry Bratton left BDB to become the Social Justice Advocate for The Sustainability Institute; a Charleston-based nonprofit that offers weatherization services to local residents and trains young people to become home performance professionals. JR eventually joined The Sustainability Institute’s Energy Conservation Corps as an AmeriCorps member.

JR spent six months in the Energy Conservation Corps, gaining hands-on experience in home weatherization techniques. He was a standout Corpsmember from the beginning, offering guidance and friendship to younger Corpsmembers. His success led to a job offer from Carolina Green Energy Systems, an energy retrofit company in Charleston.  JR enjoyed his job with Carolina Green, but he was interested in starting his own weatherization business. He ended up leaving the company to avoid a conflict of interest.

As JR works with his partners to get IMSEI weatherization company up and running, he continues to work for the Sustainability Institute. He is currently a Crew Leader, but he will soon be hired as a fulltime Supervisor. On top of administrative duties, his main responsibility is to manage and organize crews. He trains Corpsmembers in weatherization techniques and helps run harassment training, OSHA safety training, and a financial literacy class.

On top of building his business and working at the Sustainability Institute, JR is also trying to reestablish Breaking Down Barriers, the organization that helped him find employment when he got out of jail.

"Our focus is not just youth, it’s for anyone who has any type of barrier. Like if you need help with painting your home but you’re not financially able to, that’s a barrier. If you’re a single mom and you need help finding a home, that’s a barrier. If you’re an ex-convict, that alone is a barrier,” said JR. “We want to provide training to whoever needs it, but we also to want to provide services. For instance, I might be hot off the street and I need a job. We’ll teach you how to paint. Then we have someone who needs their house painted but doesn’t have money to paint it. We can kill two birds with one stone.”

In addition to JR’s work schedule and his involvement with Breaking Down Barriers, he volunteers with the NAACP, ushers at his church, and helps out at a recreational park near the Sustainability Institute. He also serves with Philan Tree, a fellow 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, as a member of the National Council of Young Leaders. The Council, formed in July 2012 in response to a recommendation from the White House Council on Community Solutions, is comprised of low-income young adults from across the country.  JR helps represent the voice of young people who have been involved in the justice system.

“My whole thing with the justice system is that it’s pretty hard to find second chances, even when what you did was so long ago,” he said. “Why should something I did six years ago – knowing that I’m not the same man I used to be, knowing that a lot of things have changed over these years – why should that hold me back from finding a job that I’m totally qualified for?”

Through the National Council of Young Leaders, JR has met with such public figures as Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, and Ronnie Cho, the White House Liaison to Young Americans. JR is very grateful for his experience with the Sustainability Institute and AmeriCorps. Without these organizations he feels he would have never had so many opportunities and he would not be as successful as he is today.

“I’ve had all types of people calling who want to do an interview with me…from Charleston, from the Aspen Institute in New York, from people in DC – this is all because of AmeriCorps. I understand I had to put in hard work, but with the opportunities that AmeriCorps gave me it was easy for me to just fly with it,” said JR. “All of it has been a blessing to me. The way the Sustainability Institute gives me support and puts their trust in me, the way they fight for me is really amazing. Any type of help I need – like I needed an apartment. I was staying with my mom when I got out of jail in 2009 up until the fall of last year. They helped me find a place of my own. They meet all my needs. They’re not your average employers.”

It’s not just the people at The Sustainability Institute that JR appreciates; he is also grateful that his AmeriCorps experience exposed him to the weatherization business.

“I just love this work. The smile I put on a homeowners face when the electric bill comes and they’re saving a couple hundred dollars. Knowing that I had something to do with that is really powerful,” said JR. 

To young people thinking about joining a Corps, JR says:

“I think the thing I would need to tell them is to make sacrifices. Starting off, you won’t even make as much money as you’d make at McDonald’s, but the experience, the training, the career development that you get in AmeriCorps will pay off in the long run…I would tell someone trying to join that it’s one hundred percent worth it. I would show them the change it makes. I would take them to the neighborhoods that I used to hang out in and show them the people I used to hang around with and I’d even take them to jail and show them where they’re headed if they continue with the life they’re living now. Then I’d show how I’ve been able to improve. I’d show them all the awards, all the committees I’m on. With just a little time – not even two years – I’ve gotten my own place, I’ve been nominated to be on councils, I was a 2012 Corpsmember of the Year, I travel a lot and I don’t even have to pay a dime for it. I just think that AmeriCorps is a very good thing that made a huge difference in my life, and I think it could do the same thing for them, too."

 

 

 

"I went through what they went through and I became someone different" - a former Corpsmember helps young offenders get back on their feet


Where are they now? – Catching up with 2011 Corpsmember of the Year,
Andrew McKee 


Andrew and his crew of NYC Justice Corps members take a break from their work on a community center to pose for a picture

Andrew McKee, formerly a Corpsmember with Phipps CDC/NYC Justice Corps, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 for his commitment to service and self-improvement. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Andrew and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2011 National Conference.

Giving back to the community is very important to Andrew McKee. He is especially dedicated to helping youth with criminal backgrounds make positive changes in their lives. Andrew has firsthand experience with just how challenging life can be for a young man with a record.

Andrew was convicted of a felony and served time at Riker’s Island; New York City’s main jail complex. When he was released from jail on probation, Andrew worried that the stigma of a conviction would keep him from finding gainful employment. He was still in his early 20s and had his whole life ahead of him, but his self-esteem was damaged by the thought that his employability might always be in question. Things turned around for Andrew when his probation officer referred him to NYC Justice Corps – a job corps that helps youth previously involved in the justice system build important life skills and gain work experience through addressing community needs.

Andrew served in the Corps for six months, from January 2010 – June 2010. Looking back on the experience he says what stands out in his memory was his participation in renovating the basement of Labor Bathgate Daycare Center in the Bronx. With decaying, water-stained walls and broken ceiling tiles, the basement was unsafe for the children. Andrew and his fellow crewmembers completed all the necessary repairs and beautified the basement with paint and child-appropriate decorations.

 “It was satisfying to just interact with my fellow cohort members and actually gain some work experience. I’d had jobs before, but nothing like that. Just the whole experience of working together with my peers and doing something positive - that stands out to me,” said Andrew. “Every chance I get or when I go past there I like to check up on the work I did. It’s been almost three years and I still take pride in it.”

While with the Corps, Andrew was placed in a prestigious internship with the New York City Department of Probation. He spent three months serving as an assistant to the Commissioner’s Office, visiting courts in all five of New York City’s boroughs to collect data from juvenile probationers. The information Andrew gathered, as well as his personal insights into the justice system, guided decisions made by Andrew’s superiors about what kinds of reforms were needed in the juvenile probation system.

After graduating from the Justice Corps, Andrew got a job handling internships and doing clerical work for New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development. However, after two years in this position, Andrew realized that the place where he really wanted to work was the Justice Corps.

“I felt like I could use my experience there,” said Andrew. “Having been a Corpsmember and actually coming from the same place that these guys, these new Corpsmembers, are coming from…I wanted to just give my own testimony and feedback and show them that they can do something with their lives. I’ve been there and I sat in the exact same seats that they sit in. I went through what they went through and I became someone different.”

Andrew took a job with the Corps as a Site Supervisor. Every day he leads a group of about 8 to 12 youth, ages 18 – 24, in a community benefit project similar to the daycare renovation project he helped complete when he was a Corpsmember. Most of the skills Andrew teaches his crews are skills he learned with the Corps over two years ago.

“My job entails supervising our participants on a worksite. I do their time sheets [and] I teach them how to do carpentry…I’m just teaching them basic skills like how to do plastering or floor tiling - it depends on what the job is. These guys are beginners and I’m just helping them get their work experience.”

In addition to working with the Corps, Andrew is enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College. He says he has taken a wide array of classes with plans to receive an associate’s degree by the end of 2013. He hopes to then get his bachelor’s degree.

When he’s not at work or school, Andrew likes to indulge in his favorite hobby: photography.

“Yes. I definitely still do photography. I try to make it a part of my free time any chance I get,” said Andrew. “I take pictures of pretty much everything. Anything I see that interests me I’ll take a photo of it. I also have a strong interest in studio photography.”

Andrew hopes to soon turn his hobby into a profession. He wants to open his own photography studio and do freelance work on the side. While his money would come from putting together packages and taking pictures in his studio, Andrew would also love to send photos to publications or use his camera to document red carpet events.

Completing his degrees and starting a photography business are Andrew’s two main goals, but right now he is happy to help young offenders get back on their feet. To youth thinking about joining a Corps, particularly a civic justice corps, Andrew says:

“If you really want to change then you should take the program seriously. There’s not a lot of opportunities out there that provide these resources and services. A program like this that offers work experience and internships - there are just a whole lot of doors that can be opened for you, especially when you’re young and you’re in this population, 18 – 24-year-olds. You have to take advantage of this opportunity and take it seriously.”

 

[Video] Fresno Local Conservation Corps Re-Entry Program Highlighted by Local News

Earlier this week several staff members from the Fresno Local Conservation Corps joined KSEE24 local news to talk about their re-entry program for formerly incarcerated youth. The program, much like The Corps Network's Civic Justice Corps Initiative aims to help youth who have been involved in the justice system to unlock their full potential and successfully become productive citizens in their communities.

 

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2011 Corpsmember of the Year, De’Andre Alexander

 

De'Andre Alexander, a former member of Operation Fresh Start, won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 for his commitment to service and self improvement. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about De'Andre and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2011 national conference.

De'Andre Alexander, a 2011 Corpsmember of the Year, currently apprentices as an ironworker. After he finishes the 4-year apprenticeship, he wants to take night classes and hopefully earn his bachelor’s degree. He dreams of becoming a firefighter or perhaps working with Operation Fresh Start, the Corps that helped him get back on his feet. As De’Andre says, his life would be very different today had he not found Operation Fresh Start.

“I would probably be working at a restaurant or be in some job that doesn’t have a lot of benefits and I wouldn’t get paid as well as I do now,” said De’Andre. “I wouldn’t say I would be as immature as I was [before], but I’m sure I wouldn’t be as mature as I am now. I definitely wouldn’t have the skills I have now. I’m sure without Operation Fresh Start I would be nowhere.”

De’Andre, who is now 22 years old, joined Operation Fresh Start in June 2009. He had recently been released from jail for an armed robbery he committed in 2007. With a felony on his record, De’Andre found it very difficult to find a job. Operation Fresh Start gave him a chance. While in the program, De’Andre gained carpentry skills, learned how to be a reliable employee, and completed a few college credits. Most importantly, he learned how to manage his anger.

“Not only did they teach me carpentry, but they taught me how to work. They taught me how to act in a workplace,” said De’Andre. “At the time I was still a kid. If I hadn’t gone to Operation Fresh Start I probably would’ve gotten a job, and who knows? I could’ve gotten fired just because I didn’t have that work ethic in me yet. Doing carpentry definitely made me tough as I am now as far as being a hard worker and willing to take on tasks.”

De’Andre says that what made the Operation Fresh Start program such a good fit for him was the caring staff. He feels that many of his teachers in high school were not invested in the students or didn’t push him hard enough. At Operation Fresh Start, De’Andre was motivated by being surrounded by supervisors and instructors who were attentive and obviously passionate about their work.

De’Andre says that Operation Fresh Start helped him become a calmer, more accepting person. Counselors at OFS taught him ways to control his actions and his words, and working in a crew with his fellow Corpsmembers helped De'Andre learn important teamwork skills.

“One thing I learned at Operation Fresh Start was that you have to learn how to work with all types of people,” said De’Andre. “If your coworker is different from you, you can’t change them. You have to learn how to work with them. Working at Operation Fresh Start there were a lot of guys I wouldn’t even have hung out with in high school. Working on the crew I learned that it doesn’t matter who they are. You need to make the best of it and learn more about them. That’s what’s going to make the world an easier place.”

These days De’Andre takes pride in the things he helps build as an ironworker. He says he knows he’ll produce his best work possible if he thinks of his projects as his own buildings. Though De’Andre enjoys his apprenticeship, he sometimes misses carpentry. He continues to volunteer with construction crews at Operation Fresh Start whenever he can. When his schedule permitted, he spent entire days volunteering with OFS. He says he loves getting to meet the new Corpsmembers and offer them advice.

De’Andre’s younger brother is currently enrolled in Operation Fresh Start. He says his brother also sometimes struggles with anger management issues. At one point his brother dropped out of the program. As De’Andre said:

“He didn’t want to go back, but I told him, ‘You got to go back. Without Operation Fresh Start you’re not going to learn the skills you need to survive in the real world.’ And then he decided to go back and I just told him to stay tough, do what your supervisors tell you and keep your head on your shoulders. It’s definitely worth it.”

 

 

 

2005 Corpsmember of the Year: Jessica Martinez

 

Jessica Martinez was paroled out of the Youth Authority system a month before applying to the Los Angeles Conservation Corps.  Her primary goal in the Corps was to obtain her high school diploma, and most importantly not to make the same mistakes that she did in the past.  A year later, Jessica has received her diploma, graduated with high honors and has earned a specialist position as a Recruitment and Training Assistant with LACC.  Through her time with the Corps she has made great strides, including receiving a college scholarship and being elected by her peers to the Leadership Team, over which she now presides as president. 

--“I didn’t realize, until I came to the Corps, that I have choices, which have consequences, and if I make positive choices I can make a better life for myself despite the actions of others.”

(written in 2005)

2005 Corpsmember of the Year: Germain Castellanos

***Update! Click here to find out what Germain has been up to since he won his award.***

(Written in 2005)

Before Germain Castellanos made the decision to change his life, he was involved with a local gang and participated in various gang activities including drugs and violence.  This path caused him to get kicked out of school and convicted of a misdemeanor by age 16.  The birth of his daughter served as a wake up call. That’s when Germain joined the Youth Conservation Corps’ NASCC (National Association of Service and Conservation Corps - the former name of The Corps Network) AmeriCorps RuralResponse Program.  Now, after supervising kids who were in the same situation he was once in and volunteering for a wide variety of community, faith-based and political organizations, Germain has received his GED, completed one and half years at DeVry University and started courses at College of Lake County in Illinois.  Germain is on his way to reaching his goals of becoming an attorney and starting a nonprofit program that works with at risk youth. 

-- “This experience has shown me that the world is in dire need of help from people who love to help others.  The YCC AmeriCorps program has helped me come to the realization that I am one of those people.”

(written in 2005)

2006 Corpsmember of the Year: Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor has recently entered college to pursue a degree in psychology. Three years ago, Michael was becoming all too accustomed to the Sacramento Juvenile Center. Having no role models and no high school diploma, there was little hope for Michael's future.

After the Tulare County Youth Corps (now the Sequoia Community Corps) contacted Michael, they saw his potential, in spite of the initial rejection they received from him. He was enrolled in the high school diploma program and maintained a 3.49 GPA. Michael was pleasantly surprised by his success. He was even valedictorian of his class.

Perfecting his public speaking skills, Michael has educated over 15,000 people on proper recycling procedures, including talks with the legislative bodies of the state of California. The entire city of Visalia recognized his work with a certificate of appreciation for extraordinary performance. Throughout all of this, Michael has maintained a sincere attitude of gratitude. He is currently a specialist for the corps in educating the community about environmental and social issues.

Michael said, "This has proven to be a great choice for me. Everything the corps has done has benefited me so much, so I would just like to take the opportunity to thank them." 

(written in 2006)

2007 Corpsmember of the Year: Tatiana Rodrigues

As a Corpsmember with the Sacramento Local Conservation Corps (SLCC) in Sacramento, CA, Tatiana has been able to turn her life around. When Tatiana was 15, her mother was incarcerated. Later, she was expelled from high school and learned about SLCC through a friend.

At the Corps she worked on a variety of community projects including a team that helped school children learn the value of recycling. During her time with the SLCC, Tatiana earned an AmeriCorps education award to help pay for college and she plans to complete her high school diploma by the end of this school year.

As Tatiana said, "Things only get worse if you don't keep your head up. At the Corps I've had a change of heart, change of attitude and a change of behavior. I've learned to become more focused on my goals. Nobody in my family ever went to college. I'm going to be the first!"

2008 Corpsmember of the Year: Francisco Vizcarrondo

 

“It’s motivating to see a person who was in desolation and misery, then witness them in their weakness become strong and successful because of their drive to live a better life and improve on the skills and talents they have acquired.” 

Since his enrollment in the EOC/Fresno Local Conservation Corps, Francisco has received perfect attendance awards, been recognized as Corpsmember of the Month, earned his high school diploma, and completed a 675-hour term of service resulting in an AmeriCorps Education Award. He gained experience in concrete work, framing, drywall, roofing, landscaping, and sprinkler repair. He was also elected treasurer of the Corpsmember Council of FLCC, as well as the Youth Council at his transitional living center.

Francisco is currently studying Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning at Fresno City College.  It is hard to believe that he is the same person who enrolled in the Corps in December 2006 – a homeless, twice-convicted, drug-addicted high school dropout. 

“The experience has helped me reconstruct my life," said Francisco. "I plan to get certified in HVAC and Carpentry, have my own business, and present opportunities of advancement to others as they have been presented to me.”

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