A New York City program called the Juvenile Justice Initiative, started last year, sends medium-risk offenders back to their families and provides intensive therapy, the New York Times reports. The city says it already has seen significant success for the juveniles enrolled, as well as savings from the reduced use of residential treatment centers. In the program’s first year, fewer than 35 percent of the 275 youths who have been through it have been rearrested or violated probation. State studies say more than 80 percent of male juvenile offenders who served time in correctional facilities were rearrested within three years of release, usually on more serious charges.
While in-home services mean that hundreds of teenagers with criminal records are returned to their communities, officials say it is a trade they are willing to make. “It's an uphill battle,” says Ronald Richter, city family services coordinator. “These young people and their families present complex challenges.” Whether the children go to correctional facilities or not, they come back to the community anyway, he said. The program “helps parents learn how to supervise and manage their adolescents so that they act responsibly instead of engaging in dangerous behaviors.” Until the Juvenile Justice Initiative, family court judges had few options for dealing with youngsters convicted of less-serious crimes. They could place them on probation and hope for the best, or send them to residential centers. The decision would typically depend as much on the gravity of the crime as on the stability of the child's family. Judges are more likely to send a child into state custody if the home situation is complicated or unsafe. Incarceration could make behavior worse by introducing teens to even more hardened youths.