News Local/State

Champaign County Program Aims To Cut Recidivism, Boost Employment For Young Adults

Jeremy Bell, of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, is the coordinator for the agency's Young Adult Reentry Program.

Jeremy Bell, of the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, is the coordinator for the agency's Young Adult Reentry Program. Lee V. Gaines/Illinois Public Media

A new program from the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission has set some ambitious goals to cut recidivism and boost educational attainment and employment rates over the next three years for 18 to 24 year olds who have had some contact with the justice system. The initiative is called the Young Adult Reentry Program (YARP).

The CCRPC was one of only a handful of organizations awarded grant money from the U.S. Department of Labor to implement the program. The county was awarded $1.5 million from the federal government agency.

Jeremy Bell is the coordinator for YARP. He said the goal is to find young people, specifically those from high crime, high poverty areas of the county, coming out of prison or jail and to get them the services they need to get their lives on track. The program offers free career and college counseling, job training, legal services, case management, among other services.

He said he’s been to barbershops, high schools, libraries and other community organizations to spread the word about the program.

“We would like for people to take advantage of those opportunities. And the cool thing about our program is it’s no cost to them. Like nothing,” Bell said.

For participants who don’t have a high school diploma, they put them on track to receive a high school equivalency certificate. For those that have completed high school, they help them create a two-year plan that focuses on achieving their academic and career goals. He said they’ll try to pair young adults with jobs that are in especially high demand, like truck driving or certain positions in the healthcare field.

Bell said the program also offers stipends and other financial incentives to participants who complete classes or trainings.

Program staff will also work with outside agencies to provide free mental health assessments and therapy to participants, he said.

“We understand there are going to be ppl who have had a lot of trauma as they’ve grown up, as an adult or as they’ve been incarcerated,” Bell said.

Program staff members will also visit participants in their homes, he said. Bell said that’s because, for some, transportation may be a barrier to participation in the program. Or, he said, some participants may be unable to leave their home due to electronic monitoring.

“We go out to them, we cater to them to make sure they can be a part of these services,” he said.

The program is limited to individuals who reside in certain areas classified as high poverty and high crime census tracts. Aside from that requirement, Bell said he hopes people who want to change their lives sign up for the program.

“You’re tired of the status quo and you want to be better than you possibly were when you got into your situation” he said. “We want to help people help themselves. That’s what we want. We want that attitude.”

For more information about YARP, visit:

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