Case Study of NYC Program Proves ‘No Need to Lock Up Kids for Public Safety’  

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Photo courtesy Syrian Society for Social Development via Flickr

Juvenile arrests in New York City were slashed in half since the city stopped sending young people to youth detention facilities far from their homes, according to a study released Wednesday.

The so-called “Close to Home” law enacted in 2012 moved all New York City youth out of state prisons and placed them instead in local programs that helped them address the substance abuse and socialization problems that had gotten them in trouble with police in the first place.

The study, produced by the Columbia Justice Lab, also documented a steep decline in juvenile detention placements compared to other cities in New York State.

According to the study’s findings, the decline in New York City juvenile arrests doubled from 24 percent to 52 percent since the Close to Home law was enacted.

“These outcomes challenge the contention that drove so much juvenile justice policymaking over the last several decades,” said study co-author Marsha Weissman in a release accompanying the report.

“(The contention) that we needed to lock up more children in order to achieve public safety.”

The fact that the city experienced “dramatic declines” in youth arrests when it abandoned transfers of youth to state prisons in favor of keeping them in their local communities for treatment and counseling, demonstrated the value of the Close to Home approach, said Weissman, founder and executive director of the Center for Community Alternatives.

As of February 2019, only 107 New York City youth were in out-of-home placements in the city, of whom 12 were in locked facilities.

That was in sharp contrast to the mid-1990s, when some 3,800 young people were shipped every year to youth prisons in upstate New York. Most of those youths were poor, and black or latino, the study noted.

The Close to Home program comprises a number of community-based residential sites operated by nonprofits under contract with the city’s Administration for Children’s Services. The youths are supervised by the state’s probation department.

Vincent Schiraldi, a former New York City probation commissioner who is now co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab, said the program’s success proved that “institutional change is hard—but not impossible.”

“It’s taken a long time and a lot of people to transform a system where children were regularly abused and a child was killed, to one where the nation’s largest city no longer uses state youth prisons,” he said.

“Now it’s time to share the lessons we learned in New York with communities across the nation.”

To underline the point, the report was officially released at the Wisconsin Black Historical Society in Milwaukee.

A movement led by advocates and local authorities there is lobbying for closure of two notorious youth prisons—the Lincoln Hills School for Boys, and the Copper Lake School for Girls—which have been the focus of state and federal investigations for abuse and child neglect, and are now under a consent decree.

Read the full study here.

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