Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $899,512)
This proposal from Virginia Commonwealth University and the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice in response to funding opportunity O-BJA-2023-171535 (BJA FY 2023 Second Chance Act Improving Reentry Education and Employment Outcomes, Category 2), is entitled, “Optimizing Community Reentry Employment and Education Outcomes through Supported Employment and Trauma-based Care for Youth and Young Adults with Behavioral Health Disorders in the Juvenile Justice System,” and seeks funding to combine several evidence-based practices - supported employment, peer support, and trauma counseling - to improve reentry outcomes among incarcerated youth and young adults. Recidivism rates for high-risk, high-need youth and young adults, especially those with behavioral health disorders, released from juvenile correctional facilities remain unacceptably high. Justice-involved youth have histories of trauma and are at risk of high school dropout, substance abuse, homelessness, unemployment and continued criminal justice involvement as adults. Our intervention, called Project Belong, will entail an evidence-based practice – supported employment - enhanced with trauma counseling, peer support and case management to community reentry employment and education needs and criminogenic risks for 75 young adults who are transitioning from the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center to the greater Richmond, Virginia metropolitan area. In doing so, we will develop a unique multidisciplinary VCU student internship program with the potential to equip a greatly-needed workforce with social work, criminal justice, and vocational rehabilitation skills. This proposal from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), including the Schools of Social Work and Government and Public Policy, the College of Health Professions, VCU’s Institute for Women’s Health, and VCU’s Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, as well as the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice (VADJJ) has all the expertise, capabilities and competencies needed to develop, implement and evaluate our project and ensure its success. Our proposal is supported by the Virginia Office of the Attorney General and is well-aligned with the VADJJ’s strategic priorities. We will study Project Belong’s impact on employment, recidivism and other outcomes using a hybrid implementation open-trial design to understand the implementation issues and impact of our intervention. VCU’s research team, in coordination with Project Belong interventionists, will collect data at baseline and 6- and 12-months post-release. By growing the evidence-base for highly feasible, highly replicable interventions, such as Project Belong, our project can promote the adoption and dissemination of effective practices for juvenile justice facilities that can optimize outcomes during the critical window immediately following release for high-risk young adults who have behavioral health disorders.