|Juveniles deserve just system|
|Monday, 19 March 2012 09:59|
By Bill Baccaglini for The TimesUnion.com
The juvenile justice system in New York is broken. We spend enormous sums of money on ineffective tactics.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed in his budget a plan, strongly supported by New York City Mayor Bloomberg, that addresses this concern. The governor's proposal would give New York City the authority to retain custody of those city youth adjudicated as juvenile delinquents or PINS in Family Court. They realize that spending $200,000 a year to house a juvenile offender in a residential facility upstate doesn't make sense, especially when 80 percent of those juveniles are rearrested within 36 months.
Each re-incarceration costs us another $200,000 a year. The costs get very high very fast — and we're not even counting the toll on crime victims and to the community at large.
Does it really make sense to keep sending juveniles to residential juvenile justice facilities, some of which are more than 200 miles away from their homes, knowing that 80 percent of them are going to come home and commit another crime?
Can we produce better outcomes — for the juvenile offenders, for the community and for taxpayers?
Here in New York, in collaboration with the City Administration for Children's Services, The New York Foundling has served hundreds of troubled young people through Blue Sky, a program that incorporates scientifically proven methods to help juvenile offenders successfully get back on their feet.
We've seen excellent results. Felony arrests alone for our participants are 6 percent, compared with 29 percent statewide. We provide programs and treatment for these youths while keeping them in their own communities, close to their families or guardians, and we include those adults in the program wherever possible.
Obviously, some adolescent offenders are dangerous and need to be placed in a residential facility. Under Cuomo's proposal, even these youth could receive their care much closer to home. This will strengthen the relationship between youths and their families because the latter will be integrally involved in the entire rehabilitative program. There are a number of excellent residential care providers poised to care for this population.
But for the vast majority of adolescent offenders there are community-based non-residential alternatives, such as Blue Sky, that have proven far more effective. These programs support not only the offenders, but primary family caregivers, giving them access to services that can strengthen the family and prevent offenders from slipping back into their old habits.
Here's an example of how community based services can work:
After a fight in school, 13-year-old Johnny (not his real name), was arrested and charged with assault. Johnny was placed on probation, but did not make his required probation visits. His mother used his subway fare to buy cocaine. If Johnny were incarcerated and sent upstate, it would likely have been the beginning of a criminal career.
Instead, the judge directed him to a program through which Johnny was treated at home. The program specialized in family therapy and drug treatment, including in-home family sessions multiple times a week. Eventually, Johnny's mother was able to get off drugs and became a better role model for her son. Three years after that original arrest, Johnny has completed probation, volunteers at his church, and is doing well in school — outcomes that would have been highly unlikely had the system simply pushed him into prison.
Johnny's story is not exceptional. Research shows lower recidivism, fewer hospital stays and lower suicide rates when offenders are placed in this type of alternative program rather than in prison. And the cost averages approximately $20,000 per year, compared to the $200,000 we currently spend on incarceration.
Now that the governor and mayor are behind this initiative, the Legislature must act quickly on a proposal that will prevent crime and save both money and lives.
Bill Baccaglini is executive director of The New York Founding. He is also former director of strategic planning and policy development at the state Office of Children and Family Services.