The proposed date on which New York City’s ‘Close to Home’ initiative will begin accepting children into its facilities is September 1, 2012. The City’s Administration for Children’s Services, which will be in charge of the new initiative, has already released a list of recommended service providers, and a detailed plan, which includes a list of responses to community members’ comments about the initiative. The list of service providers will be familiar to many who work in the field of juvenile justice and child welfare in New York, as it includes some of the city’s largest social service agencies, many of which have existed in New York for years.
If the plan is accepted, starting on September 1st, many young people who will have been designated as being accepted for being placed in what are called ‘nonsecure’ facilities operated by the Office of Children and Family Services, but which are actually locked facilities, will be, based on determinations made by the appropriate agencies, instead placed into city-run ‘Non-secure Placements’ or other facilities that are designated along a continuum of care. These Non-secure placements will be run by the provider agencies identified by the city, and will be small, 20 bed residential facilities, based loosely on the ‘Missouri model’ of juvenile residential placement.
The Office of Children and Family Services, which will ultimately have oversight over this process, has produced a helpful list of questions and answers on this process.
I have recently written an op-ed for City Limits magazine on the young people who will be left out of this initiative. In the op-ed, I express some of my concerns about these teens who get left behind. As progressive juvenile justice reforms like the ‘Close to Home’ initiative happen with increasing frequency across the country, it seems important to look at the ways that teenagers are understood and treated within these context, analyzing the differences between those who are seen as the redeemable and those who are not.
These forums have already begun, and are taking place in neighborhoods which have been designated as having high rates of ‘sending’ to upstate residential facilities. The East Harlem and Staten Island forums remain:
Friday, March 16, 2012, 6:00pm-8:00pm
Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College
2180 Third Avenue (corner of 119th Street), New York, NY 10035
Monday, March 26, 2012, 6:00pm-8:00pm
Gerard Carter Community Center
230 Broad Street, Staten Island, NY 10304
More information about the fora can be viewed here.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last week that his budget would include a provision to reform the state’s juvenile justice system by providing residential and community-based care in New York City for young people adjudicated as delinquents who are from New York City, rather than sending them upstate. Called the ‘Close to Home’ initiative, the legislation proposed through the budget would allow cities in New York with populations greater than 1 million to implement ‘close to home’ initiatives for young people adjudicated as delinquents. The statewide agency currently responsible for residential care, the Office of Children and Family Services, would be responsible for approving all local plans for residential care, and overseeing the local plans.
Under the new plan, the Office of Children and Family Services is authorized to close existing juvenile facilities if the populations become low enough to warrant such closures, providing 60 days notice of such closures.
The Children’s Defense Fund of New York has just released a toolkit on youth justice which can be used by educators to teach students about juvenile justice reform. The toolkit includes important data about how many youth become enmeshed in New York’s system, the costs of secure care, and what kinds of reforms are currently being undertaken.
I recently learned about a program offered by Children’s Village, an agency for children in New York’s child welfare, mental health, and juvenile justice systems, which provides support to youth leaving residential care. Under the program, called the Work Appreciation for Youth model, Children’s Village provides mentorship and guidance to youth leaving care, school placement services, and work experience and work ethics training. The young people in the program are also provided with stipends if they meet certain program goals, such as saving money. The Child Welfare League of America has evaluated the program, and it has been replicated at a number of other sites. You can read a case study of a program participant on the Child Welfare League website.
The New York State Juvenile Justice Steering Committee has released a strategic plan for implementing juvenile justice reforms in the state. Components of the plan include the development of system governance and coordination, an effective continuum of diversion, supervision, treatment, and confinement, accountability of system and actors within the system, shared data and information driven systems and policy. This plan will have some ongoing action steps, and it is critical that these plans of action be monitored.
This month, the National Center for Youth in Custody, which is co-directed by the Council of Juvenile Correctional Administrators and the National Partnership for Juvenile Services, has been launched. The Center’s mission is described in this way: to advance the field of juvenile justice by providing training and technical assistance and by disseminating effective practices and approaches to the justice community. It will be exciting to see what kind of work this Center might do to improve the care of young people involved in the juvenile justice system.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation has just released a report in which they make a case for reducing juvenile incarceration. The report provides data on the extent of confinement, its costs, and the alternatives to incarceration which are available. The report provides comprehensive and up-to-date data on the issues surrounding the incarceration of young people in this country, and has a wide array of simple, easy to read charts and figures. The report largely recommends a wholescale reduction in the use of incarceration, citing the iatrogenic nature of confinement. However, this report also recommends that incarceration and residential care only be used for what the author terms the ‘dangerous few.’ This term is frequently used by those who point to the need to use risk assessment instruments to sift out the ‘bad’ kids from the rest. One ‘danger’ or ‘risk’ in appealing to this idea that the only young people who should be in residential care is that it elides the complexity of the growth and development processes of young people who come to the youth justice system, and somehow places the ‘dangerous’ kids in the realm of the irredeemable, while ‘the rest’ as not. Instead, I would question the use of this language of ‘danger’ and offer that young people charged with violent crimes should be treated as such: not necessarily as ‘dangerous’ kids, but as young people who live in a violent world which has placed them on a path to committing violent offenses. As such, these kids, like all of their peers, need to be in a setting where they can build insight into their past, empathy for others, and a sense of themselves as individual actors. While many programs discussed in this report are admirable attempts at helping young people develop, it is imperative that more attention be focused on addressing young people’s development beyond the offense itself, and to the individual. Additionally, much of the emphasis in reports about residential care has been on length of stay and conditions of confinement, but we cannot ignore the importance of healthy staff-youth relationships, strong educational and vocational programming, meaningful ‘out of school’ time activities, and strong clinical support as imperative aspects of good residential care.
Represent, a magazine devoted to the voices of young people in care, has an issue devoted to the experience of being institutionalized. This is a fantastic issue, with stories written by young people with a wide range of experiences–from foster care, to group homes, to residential treatment centers, to detention. The stories are really wonderfully written and have some great and fresh perspectives.
Today, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he would be donating funds from his private foundation to a major new jobs initiative for young men in New York City. These funds would be matched by George Soros. This initiative seems to be an important and essential step in the city, particularly in light of research which indicates the stark unemployment figures for young men of color in the city. According to the Community Service Society, only one in four young black men has a job in New York City, and New York has the highest ratio of young people in the country who are unemployed or not working.
This could promise to be an exciting new initiative, particularly if it is connected in a meaningful way to the countless young men who are cycling in and out of prison in New York.
Milk not Jails has started a campaign to raise money for a line of dairy products to support their campaign. Please consider supporting this effort! You can pledge money here. More information is below:
Eating ice cream every day can actually make the world a better a place with the new dairy brand, MILK NOT JAILS.
The Big Idea:
Rural New York is home to 90% of the state’s prisons, which provide jobs in a depressed rural economy. Meanwhile the majority of people in prison come from New York City’s communities of color and their families are forced to make long trips to visit them. The guards union and their elected officials oppose major reforms to the prison system because they fear it will destroy jobs in their community. As a result, New York’s prison system is racist, ineffective, and too expensive. This is not going to change unless we can develop a new economic relationship between urban and rural areas. MILK NOT JAILS looks to the state’s dairy industry – which comprises 80% of New York’s agricultural sales – for a delicious solution to this conundrum. Join us in saying, “If rural New York’s economic survival depends on us, we’d rather drink their milk than go to their prison.”
What we are doing:
Over the past year, MILK NOT JAILS has been touring New York State educating people about prison industry economics and asking farmers to join our cooperative. We host ice cream socials in urban areas to reach out to communities impacted by incarceration, to conduct market research,, and to dialogue about our project. We have elicited feedback from over 250 dairy farmers and identified a niche market that we can develop. Over 35 criminal justice organizations endorse MILK NOT JAILS.
Our dairy cooperative has quickly grown from a conversation to a pilot business. We recently started a milk share program in Brooklyn, where people purchase a milk subscription from one of our partner farms. We are undertaking a massive outreach campaign to coffee shops, daycares and CSAs to sell milk contracts to these local establishments. We are analyzing over a year’s worth of market research to identify neighborhoods and retailers to sell to. Our farmers have cheese, butter, yogurt and ice cream ready to sell once we have our distribution system established!
What we need:
We need two things to turn our business plan into a reality. First, we need a truck to deliver products throughout New York City (and eventually other cities). Our farmers will drop off their products at one location within New York City, but we need a way to get this milk to all of the cafes, CSAs, and stores we have established contracts with. We need a refrigerated delivery truck that can safely transport dairy products. This truck will also be used as a county fair float and a mobile popular education tool.
Second, we need to print marketing materials – stickers, labels and tags – so that consumers can identify our products on the store shelf. We have created a buzz in urban centers across the state, and people are anxious to start building an economic relationship with our politically allied dairy farmers. Help us make this happen.
The Vera Institute of Justice has published a report about the use of risk assessment instruments to determine a young person’s placement options after they are arrested. The instrument was developed based on an analysis of data about young people arrested in Family Court in New York City. Among the factors which were found to correlate with a young person’s failure to appear in court were no parent or responsible adult present at intake, low school attendance, and a prior warrant for a juvenile delinquency case. Points are assigned to these factors, which then are meant to help a judge determine a young person’s eligibility for release, supervision, or detention. Vera’s report points to the success of the risk tool in reducing the numbers of young people detention in New York City, as well as re-arrest numbers.
Although risk instruments like this have been hailed around the country, it remains important to raise key questions about their use:
-Do these instruments unfairly penalize young people whose parents are either unable (because of work or other obligations) or unwilling to come to court for them? Are there alternative ways to provide support for these young people?
-There is a language that circulates in these discussions about those youth who deserve or who should be in detention and those who should not be in detention, but little focus on fleshing out who those young people are who are left in detention. Much of the emphasis of the juvenile justice reform discussions is on those ‘nonviolent’ youth seen to be deserving of services. This is a potentially dehumanizing conversation.
-How much of a young person’s failure to attend school have to do with them, as opposed to issues at home and poor policies and practices by the school? Often, young people who fail to attend school have not been receiving adequate support and guidance from the school itself, nor has the school been attentive in ensuring that the young person is attending.
As risk instruments continue to be evaluated, I think it remains important to continue to raise questions about their use. They have saved municipalities a great deal of money, and they have allowed more young people to be in alternative to incarceration programs, but it is important that we not forget about the young people who ‘fail’ these instruments.