Image courtesy of https://exaltyouth.org/staff-profiles

New York, NY – exalts Executive Director Gisele Castro has announced a multi-year, multi-million-dollar initiative to expand exalts core program, which provides academic advancement, workforce development, and justice-system avoidance for youth in high needs communities in all five boroughs.

The expansion of services is made possible through the awarding of a competitive contract by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice under the Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative, which is one of the programs that deliver on the City’s commitment to safely reduce the number of people in its jails by providing services in the community to individuals with open criminal cases either while they are awaiting the conclusion of their case or instead of a jail sentence. 

Founded in 2006, exalt is an award-winning, best-practice designated program originally conceived at CASES, New York’s oldest alternative-to-incarceration agency, and now serving all five boroughs from headquarters lower Manhattan. Exalt has served over 1,900 young people ages 15-19. Youth who enter the exalt program attend six weeks of after-school classes to learn from a rigorous curriculum. Following this phase, they are prepared for and matched with an 8-week paid internship. Exalt interns have worked at such high-profile partner organizations such as the Innocence Project and DBI. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the program moved from classroom instruction and in-person internships to a fully virtual model, and 147 students have graduated from the program since March. The exact model is not just about avoiding jail and finding meaningful work. It is also about re-engaging young people in their love of learning and in helping them embrace the urgency of taking action to reverse their journey along the school-to-prison pipeline.

Since its inception, exalt has consistently achieved low recidivism rates, vacated and reduced/fairer sentences, and increased school engagement for court-involved youth. The rigorous program model enables youth to make profound behavior changes shared with the courts to demonstrate compliance and meaningful growth.

In 2019, over half of the 169 youth who graduated in the program faced serious (felony) charges. Of those eligible, 60% received reduced sentences, and 100% of our participants were placed in and completed a paid internship. Over our history, under 5% of our graduates with convictions recidivate, and 99% remain engaged and progressing in their education 2 years post-graduation from exalt.

“We are honored to partner with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, who has long led the charge in transforming our juvenile justice system, to bring our program to more of the most at risk, hardest to serve young people in New York City,” said exalt Executive Director Gisele Castro. “Our proven, innovative program equips court-involved youth for college and careers – creating a path to economic and personal empowerment, “ exalt an enriching environment for young people to thrive; and this collaboration will significantly expand our ability to welcome and serve hundreds of families and communities across the five boroughs of New York City.”

“The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice is excited to be partnering with non-profit organizations throughout New York City to provide Alternative to Incarceration programming that addresses individuals’ needs while safely reducing the number of people in jail,”  said Sarah Cassel, Program Manager for Justice Initiatives at the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

“This new partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice is critical to exalt’s ability to expand our exceptional program throughout NYC,” said exalt Board Chair Lizzie Elston. “With this renewed investment from the City, exalt can reach more young people and support them to feel heard, seen, and humanized. Exalt’s work has never been more important to NYC’s future than it is now, as the City grapples with how to heal from the devastating impact of Covid-19, police brutality, and violence on vulnerable communities of color. We are so happy to have MOCJ as a partner as we expand our impact.”

“As one of exalt youth’s founding donors, The Prospect Hill Foundation is absolutely thrilled to learn of this new investment by the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice towards youth justice,” said The Prospect Hill Foundation Executive Director Penny Fujiko Willgerodt. “This award reflects what we have known for many years now: the proven excellence and effectiveness of exalt Youth’s community-led work. This contract will benefit not just the City’s young adults but their families and communities, too. Supporting exalt Youth’s work is about community reinvestment, renewed hope, and the advancement of BIPOC communities in the five boroughs. We are glad the New York City government is our partner in this critical work towards a more just society!”  

“As CEO of CASES, I have the opportunity to work with Gisele and the exalt team as thought partners to address the inequities and injustices in the juvenile justice system,” said CASES Chief Executive Officer Joel Copperman. “It comes as no surprise to me that exalt, with their innovative approach to reducing recidivism to offer our young people an opportunity to succeed, would become a vital partner in our effort to improve the lives of some of NYC’s vulnerable citizens.” 

“The support, advocacy, and representation given by exalt gave me strength and more knowledge about the justice system,” said exalt 2017 graduate Denisha Lawrence. “In court alone – their presence, mental preparation, and proactivity gave to all youth is tremendous. As a graduate from cycle 83, I’m excited to see the next upcoming achievements in the criminal justice system for greater changes from exalt for all at-risk youth.” 

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