Art Keeps Young New Yorkers Out Of Jail While Giving Voice to their Hopes for the Criminal Justice System


How does art keep kids out of jail? New York is one of only two states to prosecute 16- and 17-year olds as adults. Yet Brooklyn Criminal Court judges are now sentencing these teenagers to the Young New Yorkers restorative justice art program instead of jail and community service. In most cases, on completion of the Young New Yorkers eight-week program, the teenage participants avoid a lifelong adult criminal record.


Press Contact: Rachel Barnard, Executive Director, Young New Yorkers


(347) 720-0776


On Wednesday December 3, 5-7pm, at The Actors Fund, 160 Schermerhorn Street Brooklyn, NY, 11201, the Young New Yorkers graduating class will host a large-scale public art installation along with an exhibition of their creative and thought-provoking work. This will include photography, video, collage, illustration, and design.

Many members of the criminal justice system, including criminal court judges, acting District Attorneys, defense attorneys, probation officers and court staff, along with the participant’s family and friends, will attend the exhibition. They will have a chance to re-meet the young participants outside of the court room, beyond their rap sheets.

The participant’s large-scale art installation is called ‘Floating Futures’. It is a celebration of the empowering changes being made for teenagers in the Criminal Justice System. In particular, it is a celebration that each participant has been given an alternative space in the Young New Yorkers Program (rather than jail or community service) to take responsibility for his or her actions.

One participant said: “the time in the Young New Yorkers program has given me a chance to look at the impact of my actions and realize the choices I make everyday create my future and that I am important and can help my community.”

“I like that I was able to focus on the importance of freedom,” another participant said. “The teachers are very giving and good listeners. I wish it went for ten weeks instead of eight.”

Other participants, often feeling invisible in the city, relished the chance to be seen. “I liked that we were given cameras for homework so we can show people what we do on a daily basis.”

This year there has been much progress in the efforts to “Raise the Age” for young people being classified as an adult in the Criminal Justice System from 16 years old to 18 years old. The District Attorney’s Office and more recently the NYPD have stepped away from arresting and prosecuting teenagers for small amounts of marijuana procession. Local jails are eliminating the use of solitary confinement for teenagers.

“All these things are reflective of the Criminal Justice Systems current commitment to create a more empowered future for our teens and in turn our city,” Rachel Barnard, Young New Yorkers Executive Director said. “Of course there is much more work to be done and it is our hopes that our young participants will be key collaborators in the future direction of the criminal justice system.”

Just as the young participants were invited to create a new future (for themselves and their community) in the Young New Yorkers program, those that attend the exhibition will be invited to ‘float an idea’ for the future for the Criminal Justice System.

Step 1: Alternative Space

Guests will be invited to move through constructed jail cells (6’ x 8’) that could have been the space of justice for the young participants and reflect on the creative work displayed on the walls as part of their participation in the alternative space of the Young New Yorkers program.

Step 2: Create a New Future for the Criminal Justice System

Guests are invited to write down their ideas and dreams for the future of the criminal justice system and the youth of New York City.

Step 3: Floating Futures

Guests are invited to tie their ideas to a helium balloon and release it into the room of Floating Futures, share their thoughts and read other peoples ideas, hopes and dreams for the young person’s experience in New York’s criminal justice system.

Young New Yorkers is especially thankful to everyone involved at the Kings County Criminal Court, Red Hook Community Court, District Attorney’s Office, Department of Probation, Brooklyn Defender Services, Legal Aide, and the Center of Court Innovation for giving young people the opportunity to participate in our Diversion Program instead of other adult sentences.

Finally, a warm thank you to the Pinkerton Foundation for making our program possible and to Robert A.M. Stern Architects for sponsoring our exhibition.

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