New York is one of only two states to send 16 year olds to adult prisons, where they are more likely to experience sexual abuse and violent threats than adult inmates. In the past, City youth sentenced to limited or non-secure detention were sent to facilities upstate, away from their families and support networks. This contributed to $265,000 spent per year on each incarcerated youth in State facilities operated by the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) (Youth in Confinement). It also contributed to high recidivism rates well over 80% for youth released from these facilities (Criminal Justice).
In recent years, New York has been making an effort to reform this system and rehabilitate youth within their communities rather than keep them under the oppressive cycle of the prison system: bringing incarcerated youth “close to home” – a trend that has been sweeping the nation.
The New York Merger, bring them Closer to Home
In 2010, Mayor Bloomberg merged the New York City Department of Juvenile Justice with the Administration for Children Services (ACS), creating a division under ACS now known as Youth and Family Justice. The aim of the merger is to “decrease the rate of recidivism for youth, a rate that is traditionally higher among juvenile offenders than adult criminals” (Youth and Family Justice).
The merger also included an agreement that the State’s non-secure placement youth will be put under the City’s responsibility by September 1, 2012. As part of the transition, theOCFS “State-operated juvenile justice system capacity will be reduced by approximately 320 beds and after care slots over the next two years (140 beds in FY13 and 180 beds in FY14) to reflect the impact of the initiative to place NYC youth in NYC-administered programs closer to their homes” (Who Cares? I DO.). This is part of the “Close to Home” initiative, headed by Governor Cuomo, which is anticipated to save the State $31.5 million in its two years.
The Visible Improvement
Juvenile crime rates have begun to drop since 2010. Outside the City, the State experienced a 17% decrease in juvenile arrests and criminal activity between 2010 and 2011. During that time the City also experienced an overall decrease: juvenile formal arrests declined by 3 percent, felony arrests declined by 11 percent. Additionally, the number of juveniles held in state facilities fell by 10 percent. The same number fell by 6 percent in the City (Youth in Confinement).
The Way Ahead
In January, the New York City courts will undergo a change. The city will have five courtrooms known as the Adolescent Diversion Parts, along with four others across the State, with the goal being for these courts to operate more like Family Courts (Juvenile Justice System Excludes Many Youthful Wrongdoers).
What must be kept in mind is that in order for juveniles to make a full positive transition into society at large, all problem areas must addressed, including the crossover from foster care, abuse and neglect from family and caregivers, along with approaches and means to clear less serious criminal records.
For more information on Close to Home please visit the ACS website.
Contributed by Elise Stukenberg and Ben Johnson of the Human Services Council