Criminal behavior in youth is a vicious cycle. Young people who have done jail time are much less able to find employment or to bond with law-abiding peers, increasing their likelihood of re-engaging in crime. Alternatives to incarceration—programs that keep young offenders in their communities—are a better way to strike at the roots of criminal behavior. In New York City, more than a dozen such programs work with court-involved youth; nationwide are dozens more.
One of the most effective alternative models, and one of the few faith-based programs in New York, is BronxConnect, which prevents about 75 teens per year from being sentenced to a detention facility far from their families. Between 2001 and 2004, 86 percent of its participants completed the one-year mentoring program without being rearrested. In contrast, the Department of Juvenile Justice reports that in 2006, 43 percent of the teens admitted into their detention facilities were readmitted in the same year.
About half of BronxConnect participants were involved in violent crimes (in New York, robbery is considered violent whether there is physical harm done or not); most of the other half committed drug-related crimes. But judges in all cases think the young offenders deserve a second chance.
When youths first arrive at BronxConnect, each one develops an individually customized strategy plan with their case manager and a mentor, who comes from the program's vast local church network. A plan might include anger-management classes, therapeutic attention, team sports, music production, and martial arts, among other possibilities.