Deepening the impact of the first AmeriCorps program for formerly incarcerated individuals.
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A three-year, $2.1 million grant from AmeriCorps, the federal agency for national service and volunteerism, will fund the significant expansion of California Justice Leaders, the first-ever AmeriCorps program exclusively for formerly incarcerated people.
Developed and operated by Impact Justice, California Justice Leaders enlists formerly incarcerated young adults to provide reentry coaching and mentorship to justice-involved young people. Their common lived experience allows the Justice Leaders to function as credible messengers for their younger peers who face many of the same challenges they did. This best-practice framework guides their year of service at community-based organizations across the state of California.
Despite the challenges of operating during a pandemic, the program retained over 93 percent of members for at least a one-year term of service, and over the first two years provided re-entry preparation and assistance to close to 200 young people in detention or recently released from a juvenile facility in California.
“Since launching California Justice Leaders in February 2020, we have seen our members provide essential support and encouragement to young people throughout their re-entry journeys and on to bright and successful futures,” says Senior Program Manager Kriss Goss-Marr. “We look forward to expanding the reach and impact of a program poised to become a model nationwide.”
The Leaders themselves are also success stories as they utilize skills gained during their year of service to land permanent jobs, pursue advanced degrees, and give back to their communities. Former California Justice Leader Shani Shay described her journey from incarceration to Harvard in this recent essay.
“AmeriCorps’ partnership with California Justice Leaders showcases how a year of service can transform a community, benefiting both AmeriCorps members and the people they serve,” said Sonali Nijhawan, AmeriCorps State and National director. “AmeriCorps is proud to continue integrating our agency’s funding with programs like California Justice Leaders that use evidence and community-informed program models to help their communities thrive.”
With increased support from AmeriCorps, California Justice Leaders will be able to nearly double the number of members enrolled annually to 63 and provide reentry services to roughly 275 system-impacted young people each year. The expansion includes adding placement sites in San Bernadino, Riverside, and Madera counties to serve a total of 10 large counties across the state and increasing the number of partner organizations statewide to at least 30 placement sites.
The increased support from AmeriCorps comes at a crucial moment as California moves to close state-run juvenile facilities. With a larger number of young people returning home, effective county-level reentry services are more critical than ever. Applications for the 2023 service year will open in October at impactjustice.org/impact/california-justice-leaders/.
IMPACT JUSTICE is a national innovation and research center advancing cutting edge solutions to longstanding drivers of injustice. California Justice Leaders is one of several innovative programs we operate that provides meaningful opportunities for formerly incarcerated people to rejoin their communities and reach their potential.
AMERICORPS, the federal agency for volunteerism and national service, provides opportunities for Americans to serve their country domestically, address the nation’s most pressing challenges, improve lives and communities, and strengthen civic engagement. Each year, the agency places more than 250,000 AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers in intensive service roles; and empowers millions more to serve as long-term, short-term, or onetime volunteers. Learn more at AmeriCorps.gov.