by Carissa Wolf
Think it’s tough finding a job in today’s post-recession economy? Try being a teen. Now add stint in juvenile detention, zero job skills and no high-school diploma to your job application. That kind of resume leaves formerly incarcerated juveniles at risk for unemployment and recidivism, according to the U.S. secretary of labor.
The U.S. Department of Labor unveiled plans Thursday to put a dent in unemployment and recidivism rates for teen offenders with a boost in funding for post-incarceration teen employment programs. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced the award of $50 million in grant money to community-based organizations that provide employment services to teens returning from the juvenile criminal justice system to their communities.
“We know that juveniles that are released from confinement are far more likely to succeed if they have access to services that can help them go back to school and pursue a career,” said Solis from her D.C. office. “Once they leave juvenile detention, there is a window of opportunity when many are looking for a lifestyle that doesn’t involve dealing or stealing. We have a compelling societal interest to give them options. If not, they’ll go right back to the revolving door of our system. And when that happens, we all lose.”
The grant money will help fund nearly two dozen urban and intercity organizations across the country. Those grantees provide job training and education to teens who have recently spent time in juvenile detention but have not become involved in the adult criminal justice system.
Solis said the grants will benefit teens who often experience domestic violence, mental health issues and drug addictions. According to the Department of Labor, about half of formerly incarcerated U.S. teens have not finished the eighth grade and two-thirds do not return to school after release from detention.
“These young people deserve a chance to turn their lives around,” said Solis. “The federal grants announced [Thursday] will help vulnerable youth receive the training and support they need to gain valuable job skills and improve their long-term employment prospects.”