The YouthBuild Offender Program is a full-time, comprehensive program for low-income youths who have committed offenses. Participants live, learn, and work in a family-like environment, where there are various work and educational opportunities available. The goals of YouthBuild are to provide opportunities that lead to productive livelihoods and community leadership.
The program targets low-income youths, ages 16–24, who have committed offenses and have 1) been referred by the courts to YouthBuild as a diversion program to avoid incarceration; 2) served time in prison or jail and were referred by the criminal justice system in a coordinated reentry process; or 3) found their own way to YouthBuild—having been convicted of a crime and served time in prison or jail previously—and who need education or job training opportunities.
The program is offered for 9 to 24 months, and participants alternate between focusing on education and focusing on vocational training (usually in construction) once a week or every few weeks. Educational services include instruction in basic skills, remedial education, and alternative education toward a high school diploma or GED. Some programs also offer services that prepare participants for postsecondary education. Vocational training includes rehabilitating or building housing for people with low incomes.
Participants also receive other youth-development services, such as leadership training, that can be provided through structured curricula or through formal and informal roles within the YouthBuild program on committees, in the classroom, on worksites, or in community activities and meetings. Support and transition services are also available, which include counseling, workforce preparation, life-skills training, and other forms of support such as transportation, childcare, or housing.
YouthBuild USA is a nonprofit organization formed in 1990. In 2004, YouthBuild USA received funding from the U.S. Department of Labor to provide grants to local YouthBuild programs to add participants under an incarcerated youth reentry program–called the YouthBuild Offender Project. YouthBuild USA subsequently awarded grants to the 30 local YouthBuild sites, chosen to include both urban and rural areas as well as a wide geographic dispersion.
Cohen and Piquero (2008) found that participants aged 16 through 23 years at entry to the YouthBuild program had a lower recidivism rate, compared with the Philadelphia Cohort comparison group. This difference was statistically significant.
Earned High School Diploma or GED
Miller and colleagues (2016) found that by 30 months after study entry, participants in the YouthBuild group were more likely to earn a high school diploma or GED, compared with participants in the control group. This difference was statistically significant.
Received a Trade License/Training Certificate
By 30 months after study entry, participants in the YouthBuild group were more likely to have received vocational training or a trade license or certificate, compared with participants in the control group. This difference was statistically significant.
Enrolled in Postsecondary Courses
By 30 months after study entry, participants in the YouthBuild group were more likely to have enrolled in postsecondary courses, compared with participants in the control group. This difference was statistically significant.
Ever Employed Since Random Assignment
There was no statistically significant between-group difference in the percentage reporting having been employed at some point over the 30-month follow-up period.
Full Time Employment
There was no statistically significant between-group difference in the percentage reporting full-time employment of 35 hours or more per week, across one or more jobs.
There was no statistically significant between-group difference in the percentage who reported currently being happy.
Exhibits Signs of Major Depression
There was no statistically significant between-group difference in the percentage of participants considered to exhibit signs of major depression.
Overall Good Health
There was no statistically significant between-group difference in the percentage of participants who reported that they were in overall good health.
There was no statistically significant between-group difference in perceived social support.
There was no statistically significant between-group difference in self-esteem.
Cohen and Piquero (2008) used a quasi-experimental study design to compare YouthBuild participants with a similar youth cohort, the Second Philadelphia Birth Cohort sample. This cohort included all youths who had prior police contact involving an alleged criminal offense, who had been born in Philadelphia in 1958, and who had lived there until age 18. Thirty YouthBuild grantee sites from 29 cities were chosen to participate in the study, based on geographic dispersion, in both urban and rural areas. Eligible individuals included those referred to YouthBuild by the courts as a diversion program to avoid incarceration, those who had served time in prison or jail and were referred by the criminal justice system for reentry, or those who had been convicted of a crime and served time in prison or jail previously who had self-referred to YouthBuild for education or job training.
A total of 388 YouthBuild participants were included in the study. The average age was 19.6 years. The majority of the participants were male (85 percent) and nonwhite (76 percent). Almost all participants (97 percent) had received a prior arrest, with 70 percent having a prior misdemeanor and 46 percent having a prior felony. Sixty percent had served time in juvenile detention, while 40 percent had served time in an adult correctional facility. Only 11 percent had a high school degree (6 percent) or GED (5 percent) at the time of entry.
The primary outcome of interest was recidivism. Recidivism in the YouthBuild Offender Project included any conviction, incarceration, or parole revocation. For participants in the Philadelphia Cohort comparison group, recidivism referred to any police contact involving a criminal offense (for juveniles) or any arrest (for adults). YouthBuild participants were followed, on average, for 10.3 quarters, or approximately 31 months, while 2-year, follow-up recidivism data was available for the Philadelphia Cohort comparison group (through age 25). There were no subgroup analyses.
There were a number of limitations to the study. First, the birth cohort sample used as a control group is not the most ideal comparison, especially given that no information on the number of participants in this group or their demographic characteristics were provided in the report. There were also no baseline comparisons made between the two study groups, and researchers were not able to use the same measure of the outcome variable (recidivism) to compare the two groups after the program. For the birth cohort control group, recidivism referred to any police contact involving a criminal offense (in the case of juveniles) or arrest (for adults). However, recidivism for the YouthBuild group referred to any conviction, incarceration, or parole revocation. Additionally, no information to support the fidelity of the program implementation was presented.
Miller and colleagues (2016) used a randomized controlled design in which eligible participants were randomly assigned through a lottery process to receive the YouthBuild program or to a control group (youths assigned to the control group received information about other services in the community). A total of 75 YouthBuild programs from 29 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C., were selected to participate in the study. The programs took place in areas that ranged from densely populated urban centers to rural areas. Eligible individuals included out-of-school youths, ages 16 to 24, who had dropped out of school before completing high school and were either from low-income or migrant families, were in foster care or aging out of it, were ex-offenders, had disabilities, or were children of incarcerated parents.
A total of 3,929 participants were included in the study (2,700 assigned to the YouthBuild program, and 1,229 assigned to the control group). The average age for the full sample was almost 20 years, with 33 percent aged 16 to 18 years, 46.3 percent aged 19 to 21 years, and 20.7 percent aged 22 years or older. The majority were male (64.1 percent) and black (62.9 percent). Of the remaining sample, 15.3 percent were white, 14.6 percent were Latino, 6 percent were other, and 1.1 percent did not specify. Only 9.2 percent of participants had a high school diploma or equivalent at the time of entry. There were no statistically significant differences between the groups on baseline characteristics.
The outcomes of interest included educational attainment, work, and youth development. Participant surveys were administered to a random subset of study participants 12 and 30 months after study entry to obtain information on participation in education and training, educational attainment, and work. They were also asked to report whether they were currently happy and whether their overall health was good. Depression was measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), a 9-item scale used to diagnose depression in clinical settings. Participants provided responses to indicate the frequency of occurrence of depression symptoms. Participants who scored a 10 or higher were considered to exhibit signs of major depression. Social support was measured using a 6-item scale, with higher scores indicating stronger social support. Self-esteem was measured using the 10-item Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, with higher scores indicating higher levels of self-esteem. Regression models were estimated to determine the effects of the program. Subgroup analyses were performed based on participants’ age, sex, and education level.
Cohen and Piquero (2015) conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the YouthBuild Offender Program and found that per participant, the program costs between $13,000 and $24,00 with benefits ranging between $174,000 and $281,000.
Local organizations can obtain the right to use the YouthBuild name by either winning a competitive YouthBuild grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, or by being licensed by YouthBuild USA as an affiliate. More information can be found on the YouthBuild website: https://www.youthbuild.org/
Miller and colleagues (2016) examined impacts of YouthBuild at 30 months by age (under 20, 20 and older), gender, and education level (those who completed less than 10th grade, those who completed 10th grade or higher). In terms of having earned a GED since random assignment, the statistically significant positive finding for YouthBuild held for both younger and older subgroups, both men and women, and both education levels. The positive impact of YouthBuild on college enrollment only held for the older age group, for men, and for those who had completed less than 10th grade at study entry. This means that youths who were 20 and older, men, and those who had completed less than 10th grade at study entry were more likely to be enrolled in college at the follow-up period. Finally, there were no statistically significant between-group differences on self-esteem for any of the subgroups examined.
Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:Study 1
Cohen, Mark A., and Alex R. Piquero. 2008. “Costs and Benefits of a Targeted Intervention Program for Youthful Offenders: The YouthBuild USA Offender Project.” Social Science Research Network.http://ssrn.com/abstract1154055 Study 2
Miller, Cynthia, Megan Millenky, Lisa Schwartz, Lisbeth Goble, and Jillian Stein. 2016. Building a Future: Interim Impact Findings from the YouthBuild Evaluation. New York, N.Y.: MDRC.
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:
Abrazaldo, Wally, Jo-Ann Adefuin, Jennifer Henderson-Frakes, Charles Lea, Jill Leufgen, Heather Lewis-Charp, Sukey Soukamneuth, and Andrew Wiegand. 2009. Evaluation of the YouthBuild Youth Offender Grants
. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Labor.
Cohen, Mark A., and Alex R. Piquero. 2010. “An Outcome Evaluation of the YouthBuild USA Offender Project.” Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice
Cohen, Mark A., and Alex R. Piquero. 2015. “Benefits and Costs of a Targeted Intervention Program for Youthful Offenders: The YouthBuild USA Offender Project.” Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis
Ferguson, Ronald F., Philip L. Clay, Jason C. Snipes, and Phoebe Roaf. 1996. YouthBuild in Developmental Perspective. A Formative Evaluation of the YouthBuild Demonstration Project.
Ferguson, Ronald F., Jason Snipes, Farhana Hossain, and Michelle S. Manno. 2015. Developing Positive Young Adults: Lessons from Two Decades of YouthBuild Programs
. New York, N.Y.: MDRC.
Levine, Peter. 2012. Pathways into Leadership: A Study of YouthBuild Graduates
. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
Wiegand, Andrew, Michelle Manno, Sengsouvanh Leshnick, Louisa Treskon, Christian Geckeler, Heather Lewis-Charp, Castle Sinicrope, Mika Clark, and Brandon Nicholson. 2015. Adapting to Local Context: Findings from the YouthBuild Evaluation Implementation Study.
New York, N.Y.: MDRC.Life After Lock-up: A Special Report on Successful Recidivism Reduction
. 2016. Somerville, MA: YouthBuild U.S.A. https://www.youthbuild.org/sites/default/files/Life%20After%20Lockup%20final%20report%201-16%20%281%29.pdf