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New York Program Offers Teens a Choice: Jail Time or Art?

New York Program Offers Teens a Choice: Jail Time or Art?

Young New Yorkers helps youth become valued members in their communities.

Published April 7, 2015

A New York-based program is giving prosecuted teenagers a new lease on life by offering them a paintbrush instead of handcuffs. Through the Young New Yorkers program, 16- and 17-year-olds can avoid spending time behind bars by developing their artistic ability instead.

This age group runs the risk of being tried as an adult in the state of New York and could easily see their start at adulthood already marred with a criminal record, loss of freedom and a greater risk to continue a cycle of crime and incarceration.

The arts curriculum, which is a series of six intensive workshops that revolve around themes like community, accountability and contribution, helps foster “responsible and creative self-expression” while encouraging participants to take responsibility for their past actions. At the end of the workshops, the participants present the community with a public art installation as well as the masterpieces they each created throughout their weekly meetings. The goal is to create valuable members of society and empower them to become leaders and role models in their communities. Instead of casting them away as failed causes, the program seeks to lift these children up and help them recognize the talents they bring to the table.

“I think what we often forget is that people in the system are human beings," executive director Rachel Barnard told the Huffington Post. "I’ve had a judge that referred to it as a ‘grind’ and that’s really exhausting, and when [the teens] come and visit our program, it gives them some space to re-think what’s possible."

To learn more about Young New Yorkers and how you can help, visit youngnewyorkers.org.

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(Photo: Hill Street Studios/Blend Images/Corbis)

Written by Dorkys Ramos

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