New York’s After Care Program Helps Youth
Mentors youth offenders after they finish placement in community facilities. Last in a series.
Although they already face obstacles, the real challenge for young people in New York’s youth justice system comes when they return home, those who work with them say.
“When kids are in placement, they get all these tools, but when they leave, there’s not always people there saying, ‘Hey, stop, think about that,’” said Rohee Ramnath, a mentor for the nonprofit Rising Ground. “But now you leave placement, and you come here.”
“Here” is an “aftercare” mentorship group for youths after they finish their time in a Close to Home facility at a community school in the Bronx. Ramnath is formerly incarcerated himself and is now dedicated to helping youths in his neighborhood turn their lives around.
The Close to Home initiative moved all of the state’s young people from state-run youth prison facilities upstate into community-based programs, and, in some situations, into small residential care homes with limited security measures, in the city.
The organizations that run the Close to Home facilities are all required as part of their contracts through New York City to provide some kind of aftercare for youths. Some homes have mentorship groups. Others have family therapy or other programs.
Initiatives such as Close to Home have gained the attention of leaders in Milwaukee County in the year and a half since the state legislature passed a bill to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth prisons and replace them with smaller regional facilities, and they will come into question as a state committee allocates funds to replacement plans across Wisconsin in the coming weeks.
In Milwaukee, youths leaving Lincoln Hills or Copper Lake—or even those transitioning home from the Vel R. Phillips Youth Detention Center or a residential care center—have needs when they get home, said Sharlen Moore, the co-founder of Youth Justice Milwaukee, which pushes for alternatives to locking up young people.
Moore has worked with youths, families and community members for more than two years to press for community-based alternatives to incarceration. Her organization is getting ready to launch Youth Justice Wisconsin to push for these kinds of changes at a state level.
“A lot of the young people’s needs aren’t being met once they’re out,” she said. “Young people need mentors, stable housing, jobs and access to transportation to rebuild their lives.” She said these kinds of things should be part of the conversation about how to best replace Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.
Meanwhile, in New York, Crook said having the kind of consistent support aftercare provides—and making sure that youths have a supportive adult relationship once they transition back into the community—has been a “game-changer.”
“They really need that person they know they can trust,” Crook said. “They need to know that we’re there for them and that the people they were connected with can answer their phone when they call.”
The Rising Ground aftercare program is modeled after a broader mentoring initiative in New York City called Arches. The initiative is a partnership between the Department of Probation and different nonprofit organizations.
While Ramnath runs his group for youths after they’ve spent time in a facility, Arches is essentially a prevention effort to connect youths and young adults with a supportive community to keep them from getting further into the system. A young person’s probation officer can refer them to an Arches mentorship group, and their time on supervision could be shortened, or their records could be sealed upon successful completion on a case-by-case basis.
Arches and programs like it are run by people considered “credible messengers”—people like Ramnath who have had direct experience in the system themselves and can reflect on and talk about the way they transformed their lives.
“We’re past just relating to the kids,” Ramnath said. “They don’t just need someone who can relate to what they went through and what they’re experiencing now even. We’re past that. They need compassion, understanding. They need to know somebody’s on their team. They need to know how to love.”
According to a 2018 study by the Urban Institute, Arches participants were significantly less likely to be reconvicted of a crime than youths on probation who did not participate in the mentorship program.
Such mentorship programs are an example of a community-based alternative considered to be a part of a “continuum of care” for youths in the justice system that Milwaukee leaders often mention when they talk about potential reforms.
‘They actually want to help us’
Darnell Davis, who participated in an Arches group in the Bronx, now helps lead one.
“I realized, wow, these people actually want to see us do right,” he said of his surprise when he first started attending the group. “They don’t want to see us in jail cells or unemployed. They actually want to help us. When I found that, I knew I needed to keep coming.”
“These are relationships I’ve never had,” Davis said.
Kevin Quiroz is the Credible Messenger Justice Center liaison at Community Connections for Youth, a nonprofit in the Bronx. He trains other organizations and mentors to run successful mentorship groups.
Quiroz said the key to success is strong collaboration between the city-run system and grassroots organizations based in the neighborhoods where the young people come from.
“It’s taking money that was once used to incarcerate individuals and is now used to invest in these community programs, these transformative mentoring programs,” he said.
Back in Milwaukee
In Milwaukee County, leaders in the Department of Health and Human Services are working to move kids home from Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake to community-based programs in Milwaukee.
By working through the courts to find alternatives, the county has reduced the number of Milwaukee kids in the youth prisons from 56 youths in May 2019, to 33 youths in August 2019—a 41% reduction.
Mary Jo Meyers, director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services, said they began this process of moving kids back to the city because they didn’t want the county’s reforms to wait on the state to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.
“We wanted to start using what we know works right now,” she said. “What does Milwaukee County need to do to reduce the footprint of incarceration for young people, especially young people of color?”
Mark Mertens, administrator for the Milwaukee County Division of Youth and Family Services, said they brought the numbers down by looking at each individual situation to determine what worked best.
Youths have transitioned home or into other local programs. Some have been moved to the Vel R. Phillips Youth Detention Center in Wauwatosa to participate in the Milwaukee County Accountability Program—a partnership between the county and nonprofit Running Rebels. Others were referred to social services through the county program Wraparound. And others were referred directly to Running Rebels’ mentorship and supervision programming.
As it continues to implement reforms, Mertens said Milwaukee County will continue to utilize Bakari Center as a residential option for youth in the justice system.
The center—which opened earlier this year— is a therapeutic residential treatment center for boys. It uses individual and group therapy to teach young people how to regulate their emotions and make thoughtful decisions.
Milwaukee County leaders have said alternative programs and models like Close to Home are some of the inspiration behind their recently submitted $24.9 million proposal to the state for the local piece of the plans to replace Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.
“We’re asking what can we learn from what we’re doing now and from the places that we visited like New York and Washington, D.C.?” Myers said.
Last week, Milwaukee County updated its plan to reduce the number of beds it plans to have for youths from 54 to 40. It also reduced the proposed costs of renovations for facilities from $41.8 million to $24.9 million.
The county’s new proposal doesn’t include building any new facilities but rather suggests renovations and new programs. It seeks to renovate the Vel R. Phillips Youth Detention Center to feel more homelike, with added green space and accessibility for families, and suggests the county will collaborate with, lease and renovate existing residential facilities in the county through partnerships with “community partners” that haven’t been identified yet.
[inarticlea ad=”UM-In-Article-2″]The rest of the requested funding—in addition to separate county funding—would be dedicated to investing in personnel and staff training as well as creating more programs to serve as alternatives to incarceration, including mentoring programs.
Other counties in Wisconsin have also proposed plans for local youth justice programs—including building new facilities and expanding detention centers. A state grant committee will determine who will receive funding in October.
Meanwhile, as part of the law that will close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections plans to build a youth prison in Milwaukee on Teutonia Avenue and one in Hortonia, Wisconsin—separately and independently of the county’s plan.
The two prisons would be for young people who commit more serious offenses and are deemed “Serious Juvenile Offenders.” Additionally, the state plans to significantly expand Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center, which is a secure correctional facility in Madison, increasing the number of beds across the state for youths in the justice system.
Moore and other stress that now is the time for Milwaukee to explore other alternatives to incarceration.
“We’re hoping that we start doing some things differently,” said Moore of Youth Justice Milwaukee. “Not locking young people up just because it’s the easy thing to do, but that we literally start practicing best practices and stop locking up young people.”
Editor’s note: Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service has changed the names of youths in New York’s justice system upon request to ensure their safety and privacy.
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on eighteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.
More about the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake
- Op Ed: Will Lincoln Hills Ever Be Closed? - State Sen. Jeff Smith - Dec 10th, 2019
- Special Report: New York’s After Care Program Helps Youth - Allison Dikanovic - Sep 17th, 2019
- MKE County: Youth Corrections Proposal Sent To State - Graham Kilmer - Sep 11th, 2019
- Special Report: Building Trust Can Help Juvenile Offenders - Allison Dikanovic - Sep 11th, 2019
- Special Report: How New York Handles Juvenile Justice - Allison Dikanovic - Sep 10th, 2019
- County Proposal Replaces Youth Prison - Corri Hess - Jul 18th, 2019
- What’s Happening With State’s Youth Prisons? - Allison Dikanovic - Jul 4th, 2019
- Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and The Department of Health and Human Services Announce New Approach for Youth Justice Reform - County Executive Chris Abele - Jul 1st, 2019
- Gov. Evers Signs Act 185 Trailer Bill - Gov. Tony Evers - Jul 1st, 2019
- Senator Taylor Pushes Juvenile Corrections Reform - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Jun 12th, 2019
- Youth Justice Milwaukee: Wisconsin Must Include Community Input for Any Youth Transfers - Youth Justice Milwaukee - May 10th, 2019
- County Opposes Plan to Replace Lincoln Hills - Allison Dikanovic - May 7th, 2019
- Youth Justice Milwaukee: Lincoln Hills Continued Use of Pepper Spray, Suicide Risk Shows Youth Prison Model is Broken - Youth Justice Milwaukee - Apr 19th, 2019
- County Submits Youth Prison Proposal - Corri Hess - Mar 30th, 2019
- 6 Things to Know About Lincoln Hills - Allison Dikanovic - Mar 22nd, 2019
- Evers Announces Youth Prison for City - Laurel White - Mar 13th, 2019
- Gov. Evers Moves Forward on Plans to Close Lincoln Hills - Gov. Tony Evers - Mar 12th, 2019
- Evers Proposes Delay Of Youth Prison Closure - Laurel White - Feb 28th, 2019
- Youth Justice Milwaukee: We Must Move With a Sense of Urgency - Youth Justice Milwaukee - Feb 27th, 2019
- MKE County: County Officials Offer Antidote to Youth Prisons - Dave Fidlin - Feb 14th, 2019
- Delay in Closing Youth Prisons Criticized - Allison Dikanovic - Feb 4th, 2019
- Youth Justice Milwaukee: “We need action, not excuses.” - Youth Justice Milwaukee - Jan 30th, 2019
- County Picks Location for Youth Offender Facility - Allison Dikanovic - Jan 29th, 2019
- MKE County: County Prepares for Lincoln Hills Closing - Corri Hess - Jan 26th, 2019
- Problems Continue At State Youth Prisons - Laurel White - Jan 15th, 2019
- Youth Justice Milwaukee: Unacceptable Conditions Show We Can’t Wait for 2021 to Close Lincoln Hills - Youth Justice Milwaukee - Jan 14th, 2019
- State Rep. David Bowen Applauds New Governor Evers Visit to Lincoln Hills, Copper Lake - State Rep. David Bowen - Jan 14th, 2019
- Evers Will Visit Lincoln Hills - Shawn Johnson - Jan 3rd, 2019
- New Residential Treatment Facility Opens - Allison Dikanovic - Dec 19th, 2018
- Youth Justice Milwaukee Hosts Successful Roundtable with Elected Leaders on Youth Justice Reform - Youth Justice Milwaukee - Dec 12th, 2018
- Youth Justice Milwaukee Calls for More Community Input at Department of Corrections Community Meeting on Plans for Lincoln Hills Closure - Youth Justice Milwaukee - Sep 18th, 2018
- Youth Justice Milwaukee Statement on Judge’s OK to Lincoln Hills Settlement - Youth Justice Milwaukee - Sep 14th, 2018
- Youth Justice Milwaukee Statement on Lincoln Hills Incident with Young Person with Appendicitis - Youth Justice Milwaukee - Aug 31st, 2018
- Op Ed: Lincoln Hills Closed. Now What’s Needed? - Sharlen Moore - Aug 27th, 2018
- Wall Blasts Walker, Schimel on Youth Prison - Laurel White - Aug 13th, 2018
- Youth Justice Milwaukee: Department of Corrections Should Meet with Stakeholders in Milwaukee on Lincoln Hills - Youth Justice Milwaukee - Aug 8th, 2018
- Juvenile Corrections Reform Signed Into Law - State Rep. Evan Goyke - Apr 2nd, 2018
- Governor Walker Signs Bipartisan Juvenile Justice Reform Bill into Law - Gov. Scott Walker - Mar 30th, 2018
- Speaker Vos Statement: Signing of the ‘Wisconsin Model’ for Juvenile Corrections Reform - Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos - Mar 30th, 2018
- Shilling statement on Lincoln Hills - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Mar 30th, 2018
- Rep. Bowen statement on passage of Wisconsin Model of youth justice - State Rep. David Bowen - Feb 21st, 2018
- Kleefisch-Bowen bill lays foundation for youth corrections overhaul - State Rep. David Bowen - Feb 13th, 2018
- Taylor and Bipartisan Legislators Introduce Juvenile Corrections Bill - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Feb 13th, 2018
- Walker Renews Call to Gut Services - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Jan 18th, 2018
- Supervisor Sequanna Taylor Offers to Help Governor Walker with Plan to Close Lincoln Hill and Copper Lake - Sup. Sequanna Taylor - Jan 18th, 2018
- Statement on Delayed Action at Lincoln Hills - State Sen. Jennifer Shilling - Jan 16th, 2018
- Governor Walker Calls on Legislature to Pass Bipartisan Reform for Wisconsin’s Juvenile Corrections System in 2018 - Gov. Scott Walker - Jan 16th, 2018
- Response to Walker’s revisions last night on Lincoln Hills - Democratic Party of Wisconsin - Jan 16th, 2018
- Another Walker Non-Answer on Lincoln Hills Raises a Significant Question - Democratic Party of Wisconsin - Jan 12th, 2018
- When Will Lincoln Hills Close? - Democratic Party of Wisconsin - Jan 9th, 2018
- Shuttering of Lincoln Hills a first step in bringing true rehabilitation for youth offenders - Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton - Jan 5th, 2018
- Career Politician Gov. Scott Walker Governs For Re-Election With Campaign Gimmick - Andy Gronik - Jan 4th, 2018
- Changes Needed at Lincoln Hills Now, Not After the Next Election - State Sen. Chris Larson - Jan 4th, 2018
- Walker agrees to do his job after years of willful neglect and political cover up at Lincoln Hills — now when it threatens his own re-election - Democratic Party of Wisconsin - Jan 4th, 2018
- Walker a Day Late and Dollar Short on Juvenile Corrections - State Sen. Lena Taylor - Jan 4th, 2018
- Governor Walker Announces Plan to Provide a Long-Term Solution for Wisconsin’s Juvenile Corrections and Treatment Systems - Gov. Scott Walker - Jan 4th, 2018
- Dana Wachs calls on Walker administration to close Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake - State Rep. Dana Wachs - Nov 16th, 2017
- Op Ed: Lincoln Hills Even Worse Than Reported - Jake Edwards - Nov 16th, 2017
- Close Lincoln Hills: Advocates and Officials Reiterate Call for Closing Abusive Youth Prisons - Youth Justice Milwaukee - Nov 16th, 2017
- 2018 Budget Includes $90,000 for Youth Training Program - Sup. Sequanna Taylor - Nov 6th, 2017
- Rep. Bowen statement on DOC Internal Affairs Unit - State Rep. David Bowen - Oct 10th, 2017
- Sen. LaTonya Johnson’s Juvenile Justice Reform Signed Into Law - State Sen. LaTonya Johnson - Aug 2nd, 2017
- Court Watch: Judge Rules on Lincoln Hills - Gretchen Schuldt - Jul 13th, 2017
- Federal Court finds current conditions of confinement for youth at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake Schools unconstitutional - American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin - Jun 23rd, 2017
- Court Watch: Pictures of Youths in Prison - Gretchen Schuldt - Jun 20th, 2017
- Abele Blasts State on Juvenile Prisons - Gretchen Schuldt - Apr 27th, 2017
- Court Watch: ACLU Seeks Lincoln Hills Injunction - Gretchen Schuldt - Apr 20th, 2017
- More Horrors at Juvenile Prisons? - Gretchen Schuldt - Apr 19th, 2017
- Court Watch: Chemical Spraying Used At Lincoln Hills - Gretchen Schuldt - Jan 27th, 2017
- Court Watch: Shocking Charges in Lincoln Hills Suit - Gretchen Schuldt - Jan 25th, 2017
- Corrections Officials Face Community on Lincoln Hills - Jabril Faraj - Jun 22nd, 2016
- Precious Lives: A Debate Over Lincoln Hills Problems - Dee J. Hall - May 24th, 2016
- Op-Ed: End Solitary Confinement, Especially of Youth - Laurence J. Dupuis - Feb 18th, 2016
- Murphy’s Law: Why Walker Allowed Lincoln Hills Abuses - Bruce Murphy - Feb 16th, 2016