Thursday, May 3, 2012

Working for a Better Future: Improving Public Safety by Employing Youth

By Spike Bradford

In Washington, D.C., a robust and holistic employment program for youth is key to building positive life outcomes for the District’s youth and creating safer communities. In our most recent research brief, Working for a Better Future: How expanding employment opportunities for D.C.’s youth creates public safety benefits for all residents, the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) describes how youth unemployment in D.C. ranges between 1.6 and 2.3 times the national average and how increases in youth employment rates have been linked to decreased rates of arrest in the city.

Having a job has been shown to be a “protective factor” against crime and arrests for youth. Jobs help young people gain experience in the work world and effective job assistance programs provide youth with mentoring, life skills training, and a connection to their community.

Conversely, unemployment can have detrimental effects. Youth who are disconnected to institutions of education or employment represent an annual taxpayer cost of $13,900 and a social cost of $37,450. Investments in job assistance programs, however, are a fraction of this expense, and help cut back the taxpayer and social costs while setting a young person up for a lifetime of success. The brief mentions examples from across the country of effective youth workforce development programs that have yielded positive results including public safety benefits, positive life outcomes for youth and cost savings, including programs like YouthBuild, YearUp, Strive and Job Corps being utilized in the District.

When we invest in employment interventions it is important that they follow evidenced-based models that emphasize education and longevity. Many programs provide youth with short-term low-level work which keeps them busy and puts money in their pockets but don’t create the kind of lasting connections needed to keep them engaged.  

Working for a Better Future includes some recommendations for crafting an effective public safety strategy by supporting D.C.’s youth and ensuring that all youth have the opportunity for success:

1.       Invest more in quality employment programs for youth, including efforts that link youth with work that interests them, has potential for advancement and development and connects them to their community.
2.       Focus resources to help youth with the most need.
3.       Use evidenced-based models that have been shown to positively impact youth. Typically, successful employment programs incorporate components of evidence-based delinquency prevention models, on which there is abundant literature.
4.       Youth employment programs in D.C. should avoid practices which exclude those with justice system involvement.
5.       Consider innovative incentives for increasing youth participation in programs, such as guaranteeing a GED or adjudication expungement upon program.

This brief is also part of a four-part series on how the District could improve public safety and outcomes for youth through positive social investments. The first installment, titled The Education of D.C., considers the intersection between education and public safety. Sign up for our listserv to stay up to date as the rest of the briefs are released in the coming months.

Spike Bradford is a Senior Research Associate at the Justice Policy Institute.

This post also appears on the blog for Reclaiming Futures, a nationwide initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.

No comments:

Post a Comment