Aug 23, 2016

From Justice Involved to Creating Food Justice in Harlem

Recently, our newest cohort of Harlem Justice Corps Members began their service term. The Justice Corps is part of a larger initiative support by the New York City Young Men's Initiative and the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College.

The Harlem Justice Corps is a bridge program helping justice-involved youth 18 to 24 to connect to further vocational training, employment and educational advancement. It does this through soft skills training, youth development activities and civic engagement. Each corps member is provided a life coach and develops a plan for their future. They receive a small stipend for their work over the first three months (intensive phase) and can continue to receive coaching and support for nine months after they graduate.

Central to the work of the Corps is the community benefit service project. Corps Members focus on a local issue and work with staff and community partners to develop a service project in response. The Community Advisory Board must sign-off on the project. For the first time we recorded the presentation made by the corps members to the Board.

These young men and women who only knew each other for a few weeks during recruitment and orientation had to work together to develop their presentation. Their project, a partnership with Harlem Grown an innovative urban farming and youth development program, is tackling the issue of healthy food in Harlem. The members researched the issue. In doing so they developed a nuisance understanding of food in a community with high levels of poverty and a lack of healthy food options.

The corps members are on parole, probation or may have been arrested in the last six months. But that is not the whole story. They are also, like any young adult, seeking to forge their own path in a complex world. For men of color in Harlem the path to adulthood is a challenging one. For example, a 2010 report by the Community Service Society exploring the effects of the recession on the labor market found that 33.5% of black males in New York City ages 16 to 24 were unemployed, and that only 1 in 10 black males without a high school diploma had a job. The rates are higher in parts of Harlem where large number of youth of color also have criminal histories and are subject to higher levels of employment discrimination.

The Corps offers a second chance to Harlem youth. By putting these young leaders to work in their community we are sowing seeds to end the school to prison pipeline. 

To get involve and support the Corps' work in Harlem please email Kareem Butler.

You may also visit the Center for Court Innovation's donations page here.

By Christopher Watler, Project Director, Harlem Community Justice Center