TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) today announced the expansion of post-secondary, career and technical education, and employment readiness opportunities for young people in its programs. Among the new and expanded opportunities are college courses and certificate programs; a heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) technician certification program; and a program designed to provide a certification in entrepreneurship.
The JJC offers an array of programs designed to help youth grow and thrive, build resiliency, develop life skills, improve decision-making, and achieve independence. Because many youths enter the JJC with a high school diploma or equivalent or earn one early in their time with the JJC, the JJC has implemented a variety of meaningful post-secondary educational, career training, and job skills development opportunities, with a focus on opportunities that lead to college credit or an industry-recognized credential or certification.
“In New Jersey, we believe in second chances and we recognize that all young people should have access to educational and career programs that help them achieve success in life,” said Attorney General Platkin. “As the state agency responsible for the reform of the youth justice system, the JJC is ensuring that whenever possible young people remain in their homes and in their communities with the supports to help them and their families thrive. We are transforming the way we provide services, and offering continued educational and career opportunities is essential to that plan.”
“Each young person involved with New Jersey’s youth justice system has unique needs, and in order to give each youth the best chance for positive life outcomes, we recognize the need to be creative and flexible in our approach,” said JJC Executive Director Dr. Jennifer LeBaron. “These educational and career training programs, designed with new partners who share our vision for a transformed youth justice system centered on youth well-being and who are driven by a desire to motivate and inspire youth, will help our young people unlock their unlimited potential and set them on a path toward a successful future.”
College Courses and Certification Programs
The JJC contracts with Mercer County Community College and Middlesex College to provide college level courses to students who have obtained their high school diplomas and wish to pursue additional education experiences. This diverse range of college courses are broadening the students’ horizons and preparing them for various academic and vocational paths. An Associate Degree pathway in liberal arts specially designed for the young people under JJC’s care equips them with a well-rounded education that can serve as a stepping stone towards future academic and career opportunities.
In 2022, JJC students were offered 34 different academic college courses. With some taking multiple courses, 109 youth participated in 181 total courses. An additional seven career education/vocational training courses have now been added to the offerings, drawing an additional 45 youth participants to a total of 77 courses.
HVACR Certificate Program
The JJC launched its Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVACR) technician “Section 608” certification program with Mercer County Community College in the spring of 2023. It allows students to gain valuable technical skills that can open doors to promising careers in the HVACR industry. In partnership with Mercer County Community College, the JJC has developed a customized 24-week HVACR training curriculum that is tailored to the unique needs of its residents. The college provides hands-on learning through instructors assigned to JJC locations.
Because participants are at varying learning levels, the program has been tailored to deliver critical support to each participant. The online course curriculum, hands-on training hours, mock tests, and one-on-one tutoring address the unique needs of each participant and prepares them to pass the four exams required for a universal Section 608 certification, which is required to become an HVACR technician. In September 2023, the first four participants completed the program, passed all four required exams, and received their certification. Another eight youth have enrolled in the program. The JJC will continue to grow the program and hopes to work with industry partners to establish apprenticeship opportunities for the program participants in the HVACR field.
Entrepreneurship Training Course
The JJC has contracted with Defy Ventures, a national non-profit organization focused on helping formerly incarcerated individuals successfully re-enter their communities, to launch an entrepreneurship program for young people at the JJC. “CEO of Your New Life” teaches concepts that allow young people to find entrepreneurial success and build fulfilling careers.
The current program’s curriculum includes three modules following an information session and program kick-off that include:
- Building Self Awareness and an Entrepreneurial Mindset,
- Business Ideation and Professional Networking, and
- Preparing for your Business Pitch and Planning for Your New Life.
In addition, business experts provide mentorship through coaching events held during the course of the program. Prior to graduation, participants present their business ideas to a panel of executive judges at a Business Showcase. The top three participants can win up to $500, and all program participants are provided computer tablets upon their return to the community and ongoing access to Defy’s network of volunteer and business coaches to support each youth’s future endeavors.
On October 3, 2023, nine youth graduated from this intensive, nine-month training program. Each youth received a Certification of Entrepreneurship from the Drucker’s School of Management at Claremont Graduate University.
Digital Literacy and Graphic Design Program
To provide residents with a pathway to careers in digital literacy and graphic design skills development and credentialing career pathway, the JJC developed and launched a weekly class designed to allow students to work at their own pace to complete a custom-designed course that is specifically tailored to the students and the educational staff at JJC secure and residential programs.
The approximately 50 students who are currently participating in the course are learning the fundamental principles of visual communication and how to apply design methodologies to resolve communication and design issues. Upon completion, students will receive 5.0 educational credits towards their high school diplomas.
The JJC was established in 1995 to serve as the single agency of State government with centralized authority for planning, policy development, and provision of services in the youth justice system. The JJC is committed to implementing and promoting policies and practices that improve outcomes for young people involved with the youth justice system, their families, and their communities.
The JJC’s three primary responsibilities are providing care, custody, and rehabilitative services to youth committed to the agency by the courts, supervising and coordinating services for youth released from custody on parole, and supporting local efforts to provide prevention and early intervention services to at-risk and court-involved youth.
Across a continuum of care, which includes secure care facilities, residential community homes, and community-based parole and transitional services, the JJC provides programming, supports, and opportunities designed to help youth grow and thrive and to become independent, productive, and law-abiding citizens.