Dismantling pipelines to prison: Fresh Lifelines for Youth (FLY) reinvents opportunities for young people

Edward Henderson | Impact Alameda

The ACLU defines the school-to-jail pipeline as a “national trend in which children are pushed out of public schools into the criminal and juvenile justice systems.”

Many children who fall into this pipeline have learning disabilities, experience neglect, abuse, and would benefit from additional services.

However, too many of them have also been subjected to systematic zero-tolerance policies that criminalize minor offenses and serve as catapults, feeding more children into prison.

New lifelines for young people (FLY), is an Oakland-based organization dedicated to dismantling the school-to-jail pipeline by equipping young people with knowledge of the law and giving them a community of supporters who amplify their voices.

FLY’s mission is poetic in the sense that the voices of young victims of the prison pipeline served as the basis for the creation of the organization.

In 1995, Christa Gannon, founder of FLY and a graduate of Stanford University Law School, often chatted with teenagers facing lengthy prison sentences about services that could keep other kids away from school. incarceration.

In many of their responses, children mentioned being educated in the law – to know the consequences of wrong choices – as well as having role models and opportunities to serve their communities. These ideas are the pillars on which FLY was built.

“Education is power,” said Trevor Arceneaux, FLY’s Alameda County Associate Director of Operations. “There are many opportunities to practice this power. This helps develop a young person’s critical awareness of the world and their view of it. Often our young people are actively in this pipeline, and they can name it and see it. We can give them options on how to solve these real-world problems.

In 2000, FLY became a non-profit organization, based on the concepts of legal education and empowerment. Today, FLY is now one of the most respected agencies in the Bay Area that works with youth who are currently or have been involved in the juvenile justice system.

With 70 staff and over 200 volunteers, FLY serves over 2,000 youth across the Bay Area each year, ages 11-24.

“Some of the biggest successes we’ve had are young people who resisted the process and asked for help,” Arceneaux said. “FLY does a very good job of building authentic and trusting relationships with young people. Seeing the change and the walls being torn down, they are able to engage with us in a different way and let us into their lives where we can understand and learn about their needs. Then we can tap into their genius and get them to operate in the community in a different way.

These authentic connections are fostered in the many programs FLY offers to equip young people with the knowledge and confidence they need to navigate life and avoid pitfalls.

In Alameda County, FLY offers 4 core programs that provide essential services and education.

Court Appointed Friends and Advocates (CAFA) Mentorship Program matches young people with mentors to meet them weekly and help them develop new behaviors, ambitions and attitudes. Each mentor/mentee pair is accompanied by a FLY case manager who also participates in the monthly group activities organized by FLY. All mentors are also granted legal status to act as advocates for their mentees in the courtroom and in schools.

The FLY Law Program is an 8-12 week interactive course covering topics such as police encounters, accomplice liability, three strikes, theft, vandalism, drugs, gangs and police arrests. The program also addresses essential life skills such as anger management, problem solving, conflict resolution and resisting negative peer pressure. Halfway through the semester, the kids take a field trip to a local university law school where they tour the campus and act out a mock trial in the mock courtroom.

The Leadership Training Program helps young people develop the skills and attitudes they need to lead independent, crime-free lives. The program traditionally kicks off with a three-day wilderness retreat that allows young people to break away from negative influences and stress and begin to bond with FLY staff and peers, developing confidence and leadership skills. teamwork. (Due to the pandemic, virtual or social distance activities have replaced retreats.) After the retreat, youth meet monthly to support each other as a group and to design projects in which they advocate for positive change and give back. to their communities. Each young person receives intensive coaching from a FLY case manager to identify and overcome their biggest obstacles.

The STAY FLY program is a reintegration program that develops social-emotional learning skills and knowledge of the law in young people aged 18 to 25. A three-tier system is in place to support young people as they transition into the community. Legal training, prosocial events and civic engagement activities, as well as case management and coaching are offered to participants.

“Young people really enjoy being around FLY staff,” Arceneaux said. “It’s more important to me than anything else. They will remember the relationships they have. When I see young people making jokes or contacting staff to tell them about an achievement, it lets me know that we are doing what we are supposed to do. We really push young people to use their voice. Over the next three to five years, you will hear from former or current FLY youth advocating or pushing for systematic change. Tap into their sense of agency and impact the world.

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