Transitioning At-Risk Youth to Adulthood

In their article, Vulnerable Populations and the Transition to Adulthood, D. Wayne Osgood, E. Michael Foster, and Mark E. Courtney explain that while the transition from adolescence to adulthood is a rocky road for working-class non-college-bound youth, it is even more uncertain for vulnerable populations, such as those involved with the juvenile or criminal justice systems. For these youth, activities are more restricted, making it harder to obtain a college education or develop stable relationships that could increase their chances of success as adults. Among fathers, incarceration has been linked to lower earnings and education, homelessness and material hardship, as well as poorer relationship skills, according to findings from the Fragile Families Study. Effective programs and policies are needed to help protect against these hardships and provide a less troubled transition to adulthood.

One effort to provide support to youth in the criminal justice system is to provide GED and other educational opportunities in correctional facilities. An example of this effort is Princeton University's Prison Teaching Initiative, which operates in conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Corrections and Mercer County Community College (MCCC) to provide access to MCCC accredited college courses at New Jersey correctional facilities. Faculty, staff, graduate students, and other Princeton affiliates with advanced degrees volunteer to teach courses in several disciplines. Another example is the Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program, a volunteer-based program in Princeton that recruits and trains students and community members to tutor and teach in nearby correctional facilities.

Osgood, Foster, and Courtney indicate that a major problem adolescents and young adults in vulnerable populations face is that access to services often ends abruptly as they reach adulthood, despite persisting needs. Without continued support, many youth who have been involved with the juvenile or criminal justice systems may return to crime. Thomas Grisso, author of Adolescent Offenders with Mental Disorders, indicates that many youth who have had contact with the juvenile justice system need ongoing mental health treatment, with community and family support. Laurie Chassin, in her chapter, Juvenile Justice and Substance Use points out that among youth who have been successfully treated for substance use disorders, there is a high relapse rate, suggesting a need for aftercare services. While independence is the ultimate goal, the chances of success may be increased with continued support.

While researchers and advocates point to many educational and treatment programs for youth and young adults, more research needs to determine which programs are best for ensuring a successful transition to adulthood and better life outcomes.
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The post above is reprinted with permission from The Future of Children Blog, a project of Princeton University and the Brookings Institution.

Wade C. Jacobsen is a Research Specialist focusing on juvenile justice and prison re-entry at the Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing at Princeton University. He currently co-teaches a college course in sociology at a New Jersey state correctional facility as part of Princeton University's Prison Teaching Initiative. Wade received his M.S. in Sociology from Brigham Young University.
*Photo at top by Flickr user michi003

Updated: February 08 2018