Youth Power

Programs empowering youth to break the cycle and change the system

We help youth harness their power and speak truth to help break the cyclical impacts of mass incarceration and change the systems that create that cycle.

Project WHAT!

Project WHAT! (We’re Here And Talking!) is a paid leadership and advocacy program for Bay Area youth ages 12-17 who had or currently have an incarcerated parent. Our focus is on serving young people in San Francisco and Oakland, but are also open to those who live in other parts of Alameda County and Contra Costa County.

The goal of Project WHAT! is to create a community that encourages children with incarcerated parents to use their voice, pride, and power. PW Youth Advocates are trained as facilitators, and eventually use their experiential expertise and leadership skills to provide training workshops for law enforcement, educators, lawmakers, and other community members on how to interact with, support, and advocate for children with incarcerated parents. Using their public speaking and leadership skills gained through the program, they advocate for themselves and their peers at the local and State level by speaking at legislative hearings, participating in protests, and presenting at conferences.

Children of Incarcerated Parents Bill of Rights  

We’re Here And Talking (2016) is a research report detailing Project WHAT!’s research findings and policy recommendations concerning children of incarcerated parents in San Francisco.

Project WHAT! has given me an opportunity to build confidence and start a road to forgiveness about something I was never comfortable sharing with another person.

– Haley, 15


Project WHAT! is about more than me. It is about the fight dealing with all the flaws in the prison industrial complex. It doesn’t just affect me because my father’s in there; it’s a whole population of youth and black people, people in general. Prisons aren’t moving us in a positive direction in the world. Project WHAT! is a part of the fight to change that.

– Tailani

Restorative Justice Diversion

Community Works launched the nation’s first pre-charge restorative justice diversion model in 2011. In partnership with District Attorneys in Alameda and San Francisco Counties, our Restorative Justice Diversion (RJD) program provides an alternative to incarceration for youth and young adults up to 25 years-old who have been arrested for high misdemeanors and felonies.

Through RJD, we bring together everyone who was impacted by a crime in order to address the harm caused and come up with a reconciliation plan. This includes the youth responsible for the harm, the victims (persons harmed), the youth’s family or supporters, law enforcement, teachers, or community members who were impacted. Together, the group develops an accountability plan for the youth to repair the harm they caused and sets a timeline for plan completion. We work with the responsible youth to monitor their progress on the plan agreed upon in the conference. Upon completion of the plan, the District Attorney agrees not to file the charges, meaning the young person is successfully diverted from formal involvement in the justice system.

 Evaluation of our RJD Program: This 2017 evaluation reveals that the recidivism rate for program graduates is half that of the traditional juvenile justice system, with over 90% victim satisfaction, all at one-fifth of the cost per case.

Visual Representation of the RJD Program Cycle

Youth Theatre Program

Our Youth Theatre Programs are for high school students in San Francisco who have an incarcerated parent. Using theater as our medium, we help our students give voice to their difficult experiences and process the trauma that comes with having an incarcerated parent.

  • The CW Theater Arts Elective is a for-credit elective course which culminates in an original play developed by the students.
  • The CW Youth Theater Ensemble (CWYTE) provides the same opportunities in a more intensive and long- term summer and after-school environment. 

Both programs help vulnerable young people increase their self-awareness and positive self-image. They are welcomed into a caring community of others facing similar issues, breaking the stigma and isolation that can cause lasting damage.