The key to this program is an initiative called the credible messenger approach to restorative justice. It pairs at-risk and justice-involved youth, who are individuals who’ve been involved with the criminal system, with people who have had comparable life experiences, such as ex-convicts or ex-gang members. “When you think of a credible messenger, you think of those closest to the problem are closest to the solution,” says Jason Clark, the program manager at King County Credible Messengers Initiative in Washington.
These credible messengers, who are paid and trained for their work, support and guide 16-to-24 year-olds in every aspect of life. Whether it’s explaining how probation works or answering a text message at 2 a.m., credible messengers provide tools, strategies and personal experience to keep the youth out of the criminal system.
A credible messenger approach not only prevents young adults from reentering the penal system, it also has the potential to save money. In 2011, 43 percent of peoplereleased from incarceration were rearrested, according to Pew Center on the States. According to Vera Institute of Justice, in 2015 the average cost of an inmate was $33,274 a year. In places like New York, it can cost around $247,000 a year to house a single inmate, according to A More Just New York City.
Credible messengers sit at the intersection of education, government and community, and the approach is designed to work holistically. Program officers work directly with government employees, like law enforcement and teachers. For example, the Arches Transformative Mentoring program relies on probation officers referring young adults to the program, whereas many mentorship programs do not have those same connections.
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