Program seeks higher-ed over incarceration, but hurdles remain difficult to clear
When his fellow inmates in a juvenile lockup on Rikers Island first told him about CASES – the abbreviated name for Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services – Antonio*, then 17, paid little attention. “In my mind, it was like, another program — I’m not gonna go,” Antonio said. But once he got in more trouble with the law and ran out of options to secure his release, Antonio reconsidered his standoffish view toward the diversion program. Now 18 years old and in his third semester at Hostos Community College in The Bronx, Antonio is one of CASES’ biggest champions.
After earning his GED through CASES’ Young Adult Scholars program, and then enrolling in the organization’s collegeawareness and skills prep program, Next Steps, Antonio credits CASES with providing crucial financial assistance and guidance to get on track to earn some sort of postsecondary credential, which research shows will be required by about two-thirds of all jobs by 2018.
“We believe that education is one of the best solutions there is for ensuring that court-involved youth have a full range of options and opportunities for economic and social success,” said Yelena Nemoy, project director at National Youth Employment Coalition (NYEC), which singled out Next Steps as one of several programs in its Postsecondary Success Initiative that employ “promising practices.”
Antonio does not pretend that his initial reason for getting into CASES was all that noble, or that he had higher education on his mind.
“CASES was like – to tell you the truth – it was the way out [of jail],” Antonio said. “If I never went to CASES, right now I’d probably be locked up,” he said. “There was no other program for me to go to.”
CASES’ Next Steps program, which had enrolled a total 72 participants as of last December, is part of NYEC’s Postsecondary Success Initiative, or PSI.
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