Ways to weave a safety net: Free college and alternative justice


By providing higher education, British Columbia committed to giving former foster children a gentler offramp from government care. And in one Colorado county, courts keep a close eye on drug and alcohol cases by prescribing a recovery agenda.

1. Canada

Tuition waiver programs are helping people raised in the child welfare system access higher education in British Columbia. About 850 people age out of government care in the Canadian province annually. These young adults – who are disproportionately Indigenous – experience higher rates of homelessness, lower incomes, and worse educational outcomes than their counterparts outside government care. Increasingly, universities and government agencies are trying to address these disparities by removing financial barriers to higher education.

Why We Wrote This

In our progress roundup, resources are focused on people with fewer advocates: young adults aging out of foster care and repeat offenders needing treatment.

The first school to waive tuition for former foster youth was Vancouver Island University in 2013, followed by the University of British Columbia (UBC). In 2017, the province made undergraduate tuition waivers available at all 25 publicly funded tertiary schools in the province for applicants ages 19 to 26 who’d spent at least two years in care. Over the past four years, about 1,700 young people have been able to attend school in British Columbia tuition-free. This year’s waived fees of about U.S.$2.4 million will more than double the amount waived in 2017. Some universities offer additional support, including priority housing, flexible admission policies, and help applying for scholarships. “A tuition waiver does so much more for youth in care than just cover tuition,” said Verukah Poirier, who grew up in the welfare system and now attends law school at UBC after attaining her undergraduate degree with support of a tuition waiver. “Having that program in place gave me the confidence and security to even go to school.”
Education Matters

2. United States

In Colorado’s Eagle County, problem-solving courts (PSCs) are keeping recidivism rates down while helping people with substance use disorders. Born out of necessity as the war on drugs flooded criminal courts by the early 1990s, PSCs employ treatment and rehabilitation for substance misuse as a way to combat crime.

RISE (Recover Invest Succeed Excel) Court, which focuses on driving under the influence, and the Recovery Court, which handles other drug or alcohol offenses, started as a single court in 2009 and split in 2013. Candidates for this alternative justice track must meet certain criteria, and coordinators say they’re looking for repeat offenders facing serious prison time and who need significant levels of treatment. After getting voted in by a PSC committee, participants have a time-consuming recovery agenda that involves community service, regular check-ins with a judge, treatment from health care providers, drug tests, and a variety of sanctions and rewards for slip-ups or milestones. According to the Eagle County Justice Center, 94.3% of RISE Court participants and 93.5% of Recovery Court participants achieved sobriety, and about 84% of graduates have remained crime-free for at least five years after the program.
Vail Daily, National Institute of Justice

3. Benin

A Benin startup is repurposing plastic jerrycans into affordable computers, helping close the digital divide. About 60% to 70% of Benin’s population does not use the internet, and the vast majority of users access the web from a mobile phone. Founded in the city of Cotonou in 2018, BloLab describes itself as the African country’s first fab lab (fabrication laboratory), where the public can gather to learn, tinker, and invent together. The nonprofit organization is dedicated to fostering democratic innovation and hosts free workshops on several topics, such as building your own computer. BloLab volunteers teach participants how to use recycled and scavenged parts to assemble the machine in a jerrycan, and then install royalty-free software to make it run.
In addition to teaching engineering and creative problem-solving skills, the “Jerry” computer also offers locals a cost-effective way to get online. One student said he spent $175 to $265 to build the Jerry he’s been using for the past year, while a new computer would have cost him $530 to $620. Hundreds of people have built their own computers in BloLab workshops, according to organizers, and BloLab is hoping to start distributing the DIY devices to remote schools where technology is limited.
Voice of America, Datareportal, EmmaBuntüs

4. India 

Two Indian states have passed laws supporting workers’ right to sit. It’s not unusual for Indian businesses to require employees to stand throughout a 10- to 12-hour shift. This is especially true in jewelry and textile industries, where the vast majority of shop workers are women earning below minimum wage. In recent years, activists and filmmakers in southern India have drawn attention to the health problems associated with prolonged standing. In Tamil Nadu, which has one of the highest densities of clothing outlets in the nation, that attention has led to change.

A worker tidies the display inside a New Delhi store in June.

A recent amendment to the 1947 Tamil Nadu Shops and Establishments Act requires shops and commercial establishments to provide reasonable seating arrangements for workers to use at any opportunity. It also mandates regular lunch and toilet breaks. The new legislation mirrors a similar law passed in 2018 by neighboring Kerala state, where workers led street protests and formed Asanghaditha Mekhala Thozhilali, or ​​Unorganized Sector Workers Union, which is the state’s first all-women trade union. The new requirement is welcomed by sales staff and local advocates, though union leaders and women’s rights groups say there’s still more to do to bring dignity to the workplace.
Thomson Reuters Foundation, Arab News, The Times of India


The first high-resolution map of the world’s shallow coral reefs offers conservationists a new tool to protect ecosystems. Coral reefs cover just 1% of the seabed, but house thousands of ocean species, mitigate coastal erosion, and provide economic security to more than half a billion people. For these ecosystems to be protected from the effects of climate change, up-to-date information on reefs is vital. That’s why a team of scientists from Arizona State University, the University of Queensland, the National Geographic Society, and technology companies Planet and Vulcan spent three years mapping the world’s shallow tropical reefs.

Coral reefs, like the one pictured here off the coast of Fiji, provide economic and ecological services to the nearby communities.

The Allen Coral Atlas covers 97,700 square miles of coral reefs in detail. Built using more than 2 million satellite images, coral data gathered from hundreds of international research teams, and machine-learning techniques, the mapping platform also includes a bleaching surveillance tool, which can track events that threaten the coral’s vitality nearly in real time. By making it easier to spot trends in reef health and access comprehensive maps, researchers hope this resource will bolster efforts to manage and protect shallow reef ecosystems. The atlas, which launched earlier this year, is already supporting conservation projects in more than 30 countries, including Indonesia, Mozambique, and Fiji.
Mongabay, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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