When sixteen year old Maliek Jones was referred to Avenues for Justice, NY Supreme Court Judge Solomon warned Executive Director Angel Rodriguez that he would sentence the young man to five years in prison unless an alternative to incarceration program, like Avenues for Justice (AFJ), was willing to help.
Maliek grew up with his mother, grandmother and two brothers. Maliek’s family moved constantly from borough to borough, until they settled in a public housing complex on the Lower East Side in 2004. Maliek showed promise, but due to his lack of stability, he started getting into trouble, spending time with peers who were bad influences and making poor decisions. After being kicked out of high school, he was enrolled in an alternative school where he continued to struggle.
After being arrested twice in 2014 for robbery, Maliek was remanded to Rikers Island where he spent sixteen months. After intensive interviews and careful consideration, Angel determined that Maliek was a young man who had made two big mistakes, but who could benefit from alternative sentencing. When AFJ court advocate Elsie Flores met Maliek, she saw that his mental health had been seriously affected by the prison culture at Rikers Island. Maliek had begun using prison slang, struggled to be independent, and was still drawn to street activity. AFJ and Maliek had to work together on the daunting task of undoing the effects of prison, in addition to addressing his poor early decision-making.
AFJ developed a program participant plan for Maliek, and Judge Solomon accepted the plea deal, giving Maliek the opportunity to stay out of jail and earn Youthful Offender status. Maliek would have to successfully comply with the conditions set forth by AFJ for one full year, or face seven years in prison for each robbery offense. He had to meet nightly curfew, attend high school, report to AFJ’s Lower East Side community center after school for supervision and workshops, receive mental health treatment referrals, and remain crime-free. Maliek, with Elsie’s support, worked incredibly hard every single day to make sure that his monthly progress reports to the court continuously improved.
While many of his peers were dropping out, incarcerated or struggling to earn their GEDs, Maliek was being tutored by AFJ for his Regents examinations. On June 23, 2017, with Elsie looking on, Maliek graduated from high school – a day he thought he would never see.
On June 27, 2017, after a year of Maliek and AFJ providing progress reports, Judge Solomon determined that Maliek had earned the sentence that AFJ thought was most appropriate. Maliek was sentenced to five years of probation and adjudicated a Youthful Offender. In four years’ time, with the completion of his probationary period, Maliek will have his felony record sealed.
Youthful Offender adjudication was not just handed to Maliek – he earned it through his determination to change his life and with the support of Avenues for Justice. With his felony record sealed, he will not be discriminated against for employment, public housing, financial aid, federal loans, and much more. Today, Maliek is employed as a construction worker with the Center for Employment Opportunities. He has dreams of freelancing as a clothing designer and photographer. His outlook on the future is bright.