5 Things to Consider Regarding Reentry and Employment








By Sam Aspnes

I tell most people my first job was working the concession stand of a movie theater. In reality, my first job was being a part of my parents’ labor force. Despite legislation outlawing forced child labor, my parents flaunted the law and made me mow the lawn, clean the house, and (gasp) dig rocks out of the yard. Of course I realize now that work has helped me in many ways – although I would never admit that to my parents.

Employment breeds a sense of self-worth and accomplishment. It connects a person to their community. And honest work precludes adults and youth from having to make money in more “creative” ways.

For youth transitioning out of YRTCs or other out-of-home placements, finding and keeping a job is important for a successful transition back into the community. I talked with Mark Mason of Nebraska VR (Vocational Rehabilitation) and Jim Bennett, Program Specialist for Reentry at the Office of Probation Administration, about things to think about when helping youth get back to work. Here are the top 5:

1. Job placement and training services

For youth involved with the system, finding a job that fits is often a great obstacle. Placement services help youth not only find a job, but keep a job. Placement staff identify client job goals by looking closely at the client’s strengths, interests, and aptitudes. And if they require more training, program staff can set them up with technical or service training programs or post-secondary education options.

A few examples of Nebraska’s resources offering assistance with train-to-work and job placement services are Nebraska VR, the HUB’s Project Hire, Workforce Development – Workforce Investment Act (WIA), and YouthBuild USA. These providers teach job seekers how to look for a job – often through non-traditional methods. They also help with job application preparation and have partnerships with employers looking for qualified, trained workers.

Also, keeping a job is often harder than finding a job to begin with. Nebraska VR Program Director for Transition Services Mark Mason says following up with youth after they’ve found a job is crucial. A quick follow-up can smooth out disconnects between employers and employees and resolve interpersonal conflicts.

2. Informal supports and caring adults

Though often overlooked, one of the most important things to consider for any youth on reentry is a strong system of informal supports and caring adults in the lives of these young people. It is this support system of neighbors, friends, relatives, co-workers, teachers, and mentors that will support and sustain a young person when the other services and professional adults are either unavailable or no longer being used.

Services do not cure problems; communities and families do. Employment and job-finding services are a great way for youth to obtain employment, but if a young person can identify a trusted adult, that relationship will do more to help the youth retain that employment and achieve those other developmental outcomes desired for all youth in Nebraska.

3. Developing soft skills

Oftentimes, youth in reentry lack the “soft skills” necessary to fit in with a company culture and to work well with others. Soft skills – also known as “workforce readiness” skills – include communication, attitude, networking, teamwork, critical thinking, and personal habits. Visit the ODEP website to learn more.

Soft skills go a long way towards finding and retaining employment. Many of us learn these skills early on, and they’re often taken for granted. The organizations mentioned above all help with soft skills, but so should schools and adults. Improving soft skills should be addressed in every part of the reentry process.

4. Tech literacy and help for the emotionally, mentally, and physically disabled

Technology is advancing rapidly, and being capable and literate with that technology is often necessary to succeed in the modern workplace. Basic computer skills like using a keyboard, mouse and email, and having reliable access to the Internet all play a role – yet many who grew up in low-income families have none of these skills or resources.

Here is a free introductory online course to computer literacy provided by Microsoft.

Tech literacy is also critical for youth with emotional, mental, and physical disabilities. According to research from the National Disability Rights Network, an estimated 70 percent of justice-involved youth have disabilities, including psychiatric, mental health, sensory, and intellectual disabilities. Train-to-work programs offer assistance and solutions through adaptive technology.

5. Don’t forget education

While we want youth to be employed and learn those employment skills, obtaining an educational diploma will increase long-term employability and earning potential and will decrease the likelihood of recidivism and incarceration. So coordination around employment and education is crucial. One doesn’t take precedence over the other.

The connection between schools and employment is extensive. Schools themselves offer opportunities and supports for career readiness, and a youth’s school counselor can be an amazing resource. Many schools offer school credits for employment and will work with that youth’s school schedule to fit that employment.

Many of the job readiness programs that young people engage in have a school component built into them and many are targeted towards youth with an IEP or a 504 plan.

Balancing school and work is a struggle for most everyone engaged in both. When you add probation officers, case workers, treatment providers, and other external expectations of young people, it is no wonder we see those struggles with one or the other.


Sam Aspnes is an NJJA board member and graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications.


Hope After Juvenile Detention? You Bet!

Olympia, Wash. – For kids wondering if they can ever recover from the mistakes of youth, they need look no further than the story of Starcia Ague. Despite a horrific childhood and a serious juvenile criminal history, Starcia now works for the President of the United States.

NJJA first came to know Starcia when she spoke at the 2012 Annual Conference. The advocate for youth speaks to people around the country and now works for Barack Obama. The president recently appointed the youth advocate to the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice.

Starcia grew up in Washington State with a meth-dealer dad and a mom who kicked her out of the house at 11 years old. At 15, on orders from her mother, who had recently been robbed, Starcia participated in a violent act of retribution. As a result, she spent five years in juvenile detention.

Follow the link below to view a documentary by TVW showing how this impressive woman turned her life around.


LB 464 debate to begin soon, possibly tomorrow (March 18)

With the Legislative session moving toward its final weeks, legislators are getting ready to debate some of the most important issues for Nebraska’s children and youth.As early as today (March 18), senators may begin debate on the next step in Nebraska’s juvenile justice reform effort, LB 464 and its amendments.
Your voice is needed to make sure that our juvenile justice system holds youth accountable for their actions in a way that puts them on the path to a successful future.
LB 464, AM 2163 and AM 2164 strengthen Nebraska’s juvenile justice system in a number of ways:
  1. It makes sure our state is treating kids like kids instead of adults when they break the law, by ensuring most youth have access to services available in juvenile justice system instead of immediately facing prosecution as adult;
  2. It provides clarity and additional funding to enhance legislation from last year that keeps youth in the juvenile justice system close to home and out of detention and incarceration; and
  3. It puts an emphasis on schools, families, and childrenaddressing absenteeism and truancy before any referral for court involvement is made.
Please take a moment to contact your Senator today and ask them to support LB 464, AM 2163 & AM 2164.

Nebraska Juvenile Justice Reform Update

By Jim Bennett, Reentry Program Specialist, Office of Probation Administration

Juvenile justice reform is well underway in the State of Nebraska with the passage of Legislative Bill 561 introduced by Sen. Brad Ashford (I-Omaha) in May 2013. LB 561 moved all supervision of delinquent juveniles from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Office of Juvenile Services (OJS) to Nebraska’s Office of Probation Administration. Along with that move came $14.5 million to be spent on new services for youth along with a grant program to aid counties focusing on the developing of front-end services for youth. The changes are intended to decrease the dependency on juvenile detention center stays, place more emphasis on rehabilitation, increase family engagement, and provide more services at the community level.

There are several distinct benchmarks for the implementation of several major components of the bill:

July 1, 2013

  • Youth sent to the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTC) are placed in the care and custody of the OJS with an order of Intensive Supervised Probation.
  • Limitations are set on sending juveniles to secure detention and the YRTCs. Juveniles can only be sent if it is a matter of immediate and urgent need for the protection of the juvenile, protection of others or their property, or if the juvenile is likely to flee jurisdiction.
  • All YRTC commitments will be subject to juvenile court jurisdiction and the reentry process upon discharge from the YRTC.

October 1, 2013

  • OJS authority for new community supervision and evaluations has been eliminated.
  • The DHHS option for status offenders has been eliminated.
  • Probation Administration is responsible for the cost of detention for any juvenile who is post-disposition pending placement, held on a motion to revoke, or on probation at the time of intake.
  • Juvenile evaluations must be completed and returned to the court within 21 days when ordered. OJS evaluations are no longer required and more single-focused evaluations will be the focus.
  • Community and family reentry process is underway for juveniles leaving the YRTCs. The program is being implemented through cooperation between the OJS and Probation Administration. Reentry planning begins at intake to the YRTC, and the facility gives the court and probation a 60-day notification of discharge to adequately prepare for discharge.
  • All new dispositions of law violators and status offenders will be placed with Probation for supervision and service delivery including all costs of service and evaluations. There are no more new commitments to DHHS/OJS.
  • The court has the authority to order needed voluntary services with Probation supervision or service delivery for juveniles charged with law violations and/or 3Bs.
No later than April 1, 2014
  • A formal transition process will be implemented and any cases involving law violators or status offenders remaining with DHHS/OJS will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by Probation and DHHS/OJS, and an individual transition will be created and adopted with court approval.

In addition, the Nebraska Crime Commission added two new positions to oversee the Community Based Aid funding and Diversion services statewide. Community Based Aid replaced the old “County Aid” funding at the Crime Commission and increased funding to $5 million. Applications for this funding were recently submitted to the Crime Commission for review.

Change of this magnitude can be difficult, but system stakeholders statewide have been working collaboratively to provide training, interpretation, development of services and, most importantly, seamless transition of services for youth and their families. As the Legislature moves into this year’s short session, there will be efforts made to help clarify some of the inevitable questions that have arisen with regards to implementation of the reform since July of last year.

Though this process has not been without bumps along the way, the State of Nebraska remains committed to better outcomes for Nebraska youth and safer communities.