Vera Institute of Justice, Department of Planning and Government Innovation

Organization Website:

Location: New York

Former Intern(s): Tashman Rahman, Barnard '12

Organization Description

The Vera Institute of Justice combines expertise in research, demonstration projects, and technical assistance to help leaders in government and civil society improve the systems people rely on for justice and safety. Vera works across the country and internationally, with offices in New York City, Washington DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles supporting approximately 200 staff members. Our organization is structured around centers and programs that focus in on particular justice system issues including immigration and justice, sentencing and corrections, victimization and safety, youth justice, substance abuse and mental health, family justice, cost-benefit analysis, prosecution and racial justice, and international justice. 

The Department of Planning and Government Innovation creates, operates, and studies innovative, affordable demonstration projects as direct-service solutions to significant gaps in how justice is delivered. The department is unique in Vera’s structure in that we  work across a range of justice issues to develop workable solutions to identified challenges, create comprehensive implementation plans, and put theory into practice, testing real-world feasibility and real-life benefits. When proven successful, Vera “spins off” demonstration projects as independent organizations or merges them into existing agency structures. 

Since Vera’s founding 50 years ago, our agency has cultivated an impressive record of innovation. Vera has created 29 sustainable projects—of these, five became part of other organizations, seven merged into government systems, and 17 became independent nonprofit agencies. Safe Horizon, Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES), Project Renewal, the Legal Action Center, Neighborhood Youth and Family Services, Job Path, and Esperanza are just a few examples of Vera spin-offs that are still making a profound impact today.  

A Guggenheim intern will significantly increase the Department of Planning and Government Innovation’s capacity to build new strategies that support youth who are at risk of, or are involved in, the justice system.

Guggenheim Internship Description

The Guggenheim intern will contribute to Vera’s work in one or both of the following issue areas, depending on the intern’s skills and interests. With both projects, the intern would be engaged in significant direct contact with youth and parents. Work will involve researching best practices, drafting letters, reports, and concept papers, talking to practitioners, and collecting other relevant information. 

This internship will be an excellent opportunity to gain experience working with government systems to improve services for youth in the justice system. With each proposed project, 50 percent of the intern’s time will be devoted to direct work with youth and families. To prepare the intern for this experience, Vera staff with significant expertise in positive youth development and family engagement will provide trainings discuss approaches our agency promotes and what to do in various situations that may arise. 

Issues areas: 
1.  Child Welfare and Criminal Justice System Involvement

The Guggenheim intern will analyze the intersection of the child welfare system with the juvenile justice or criminal justice system in New York City. The growing body of literature on youth who are involved in both systems, referred to as crossover or dual jurisdiction youth, strengthens the call for improved responses and policies, as reports indicate a lack of coordination among juvenile justice and child welfare systems in serving this population. In the Planning and Government Innovation Department, the Guggenheim intern’s involvement may take the form of a participatory research project that will contribute to the development of a concept paper and future work in this area. While researching conflicting policies and statutes is a key component of this work, direct youth perspective provides knowledge of how these issues take shape on the ground and affect youth. This knowledge is essential in understanding the challenges dual jurisdiction youth face and the scope of the issue. 

Proposed direct service projects that the Guggenheim intern may participate in include:
• Assist Vera staff in conducting interviews with foster care agency provider staff to discuss: what services youth in care are entitled to; eligibility requirements of benefits; challenges dual jurisdiction youth face in accessing services; and agency coordination with probation and other staff related to a youth’s juvenile or criminal justice case.
• Assist Vera staff in conducting interviews with crossover youth to discuss their experiences: accessing supports and benefits; accessing information about what benefits they are entitled to; and the challenges of navigating multiple systems.
• Assist Vera staff in organizing a crossover youth focus group:
• Conduct outreach to agencies to recruit dual system youth 
• Meet with youth to brief them on Vera’s work and project goals
• Assist in facilitating the focus group 
• Observe court proceedings (permanency hearings) in New York City Family Court
• Conduct participant observation with Vera staff at  programs that serve crossover youth

2.  School Engagement, Chronic Absence, and Justice System Involvement:

Vera has long recognized the connection between school attendance and school discipline policies and the involvement of youth in the juvenile and criminal justice systems. The Department of Planning and Government Innovation has been working in partnership with the NYC Department of Education and community-based organizations to explore issues related to chronic school absence among middle and high school students in the city’s public schools for several years. Within the next year, we plan to pilot a new method of intervening and reengaging teens in school.  

A Guggenheim intern will further explore issues at this intersection and will assist the department in building capacity for this pilot project. The intern will help organize and run focus groups and individual interviews with youth who were chronically absent during the previous school year and their parents to better understand the often complex factors that contribute to school absence. The intern will assist Vera staff in testing, validating, and adapting a student engagement assessment tool with youth who were chronically absent during the previous school year. This tool will be used in NYC schools to identify the causes of chronic school absence among individual teens and support them in reengaging in school. In addition, the intern will support the sustainability of this project by assisting Vera staff in identifying and pursuing promising funding opportunities.

Intern Qualifications

• Prior experience working directly with at risk youth and/or their parents. 
• Understanding of and interest in improving the juvenile justice, education, and child welfare systems.
• Excellent writing and analytical skills and abilities.
• Ability to work on multiple projects effectively and efficiently, both independently and collaboratively with a team.

Ideal candidates will be creative thinkers and able to work with a variety of constituencies.

Expected start time: 9:00 am

Expected end time: 5:00 pm

Required Dates: This internship can take place anytime between 06/03/13 to 08/16/2013

Internship Length: 8-10 weeks

Additional Information: The Department of Planning and Government Innovation does not anticipate any preparation work for this internship taking place outside of the regular work schedule or any preparation work prior to the start of the internship. During the internship term, there may be workshops, trainings, or focus  groups that could take place in the evening hours or on weekends, but these opportunities will be optional depending on the availability of the intern during these hours.
The intern will be responsible for managing his/her own public transportation to the office and will travel via public transit with Vera staff to conduct site visits, interviews, focus groups and participant observation at community-based organizations. The intern will be responsible for managing and financing his/her access to public transit.
The Vera Institute of Justice partners with government to improve justice systems through research, technical assistance, and demonstration projects. Our organization’s approach to increase the fairness, effectiveness, and efficiency of the justice system is to work behind the scenes with government partners rather than engage in direct service or advocacy work.


Vera Institute  of Justice, Department of Planning and Government Innovation Internship Application