How Alternatives To Incarceration Are Giving Youth A Second Chance

Did you know the U.S. incarcerates Black people at a nearly five times higher rate than white people?  This is part two in our Break the Bias series for Black History Month, where we are highlighting people and organizations who are creating alternatives to incarceration. Today we’re speaking to Brian Stanley, Court Advocate for Avenues for Justice, an organization that’s been around for more than 40 years and that has successfully kept thousands of African American and Hispanic youth and young adults in New York City out of the criminal justice system.

In New York City, it costs about $450,000 to incarcerate a young person for a year, but to put them through Avenues For Justice’s program, it costs about $6,000. Brian Stanley has some fascinating insights about lowering incarceration rates, and new paths forward. Listen to the full conversation here, and read below for some key takeaways.

The Story Behind Avenues for Justice

Avenues for Justice is  one of the oldest youth alternatives to incarceration programs in the country. Its story began with a Jewish college student named Robert Siegal, a Black police officer named Andrew Glover,  and a Hispanic youth advocate named Angel Rodriguez, who was working as a youth counselor at the local Boy’s Club.

Siegal was an NYU student in the 1970s who wanted to give youth on the Lower East Side a safe space, and began connecting with local precinct officers to advocate for youth to be offered services inside the courtroom and beyond. Seigal befriended NYPD police officer Glover, who spent his time off playing basketball with kids in the neighborhood. When Glover was killed in the line of duty, Seigal asked Glover’s family if he could name a not-for-profit youth program after him in his honor. When Seigal tragically died at just 28 years old, Rodiguez led the charge on creating a youth alternative to incarceration program that is today called Avenues for Justice.

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Ways Each Person Can Make a Positive Difference

Seigal, Glover and Rodriquez are examples of individuals who channeled their passion of advocating for youth into making a real difference in their communities. Stanley is helping to carry on that legacy and is also personally passionate about being part of the solution.

“I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in rough neighborhoods, and there are a lot of friends I had as a teenager who are either dead or in jail,” says Stanley. “It had an impact on me. I’ve always wanted to do something about the things that bother me, and be a part of the solution. And I think the easiest way for me to keep my sanity is to be engaged in doing something.”

The thing about AFJ that especially appeals to Stanley is the whole-person approach they offer to youth. “This is more than offering services in isolation,” says Stanley. “We spend a lot of individual time with all of our clients, and we build relationships with their families. We advocate for them in schools and we’ll go to medical appointments with them. We have to build a real rapport, because these young people are living in a world where they don’t have a lot of places to turn where they can feel genuine trust.”

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Fighting Recidivism With #ServicesNotCells

On average, 94% of Avenues for Justice (AFJ)  graduates avoid reconviction within three years of enrollment into their program. In addition to providing free court advocates for youth who are disadvantaged by the justice system, AFJ also has a HIRE UP program offering in-person, virtual, and hybrid events, including educational and vocational workshops, online support and training, mental health therapy sessions, and more.

AFJ is also helping to change how youth cases are handled in court. “Now [because of Avenues for Justice’s work]  if you’re between the ages of 16 and 19, generally speaking, your cases in Manhattan will go to the youth part of the court, as opposed to youth seeing a judge in the regular adult court,” says Stanely. When youth are tried as adults, they are more likely to be convicted and typically receive harsher sentences. Thus, trying youth not as adults has an enormous impact on the trajectory of their lives.

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The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. There are economic impacts, such as the fact that the AFJ program could save more than $400,000 per court-impacted youth. There is the cost to communities, where families are negatively impacted by having loved ones who are incarcerated. There are impacts to workplaces, who are missing out on talent when youth are incarcerated. AFJ is an example of a solution to the issue of mass incarceration, which is impacting communities, workplaces and society.


Sara Munjack

As the Director of Content at Consciously Unbiased, Holly Corbett is fueling inclusion through storytelling to build a passionate community and creating experiences inside organizations to transform workplace culture.
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