Summary of The Center for New York City Affairs De Blasio Series – Reforming Juvenile Justice: Is ‘Close to Home’ Working? and more …

On April 21st, 2015 the Center for New York City Affairs hosted Reforming Juvenile Justice: Is ‘Close to Home’ Working, as part of their De Blasio Series. The Close to Home Initiative is a collaborative effort between New York City and New York State that ensures more appropriate placements for New York City youth. This reform is intended to increase the efficiency of the juvenile justice system and also provide a group home-like detention for juvenile offenders instead of sending them to scandal-plagued Upstate facilities.  Experts on the panel came together to discuss whether ‘Close to Home’ is living up to its promise.

Jeffrey A. Butts, Ph.D., director, Research & Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Edward Fabian, assistant vice president, Adolescent Residential Care, Sheltering Arms Children and Family Services

Martin Feinman, attorney-in-charge, Juvenile Rights Practice’s Brooklyn Office, Legal Aid Society

Felipe Franco, deputy commissioner, Division of Youth and Family Justice (DYFJ), Administration for Children’s Services

Dr. Jeremy Kohomban, president and chief executive, The Children’s Vision

The discussion also included the perspective of Rian Bryan, exalt participant and former non-secure placement resident.

View the full live stream.

The New York Times also presented the perspective of one community in this piece. South Ozone Park Residents argue that they are not against the Close to Home initiative, they are against the inappropriate placement of the facility.

The CSG Justice Center highlights a brief by The Pew Charitable Trusts providing an overview of state juvenile justice legislation changes in Hawaii, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, California, Texas, Ohio, and Virginia. It also discusses the shift in public opinion on incarcerating youth.

In Hilary Clinton’s Speech on April 29th, 2015 she called for a re-evaluation of prison sentences and trust between police and communities. Mrs. Clinton addresses the effect of mass incarceration on families and young people as well. Both the Time and the Huffington Post covered this story. Al Jazeera also covered a story on how mass incarceration has specifically affected West Baltimore. They mention that “Maryland’s state budget allocates $17 million each year just to this single neighborhood…[yet] That money goes not to job training, family services or education, but solely to incarceration.”

New York Community Foundations Mobilizing Around Raise the Age

On March 31, 2015 the New York State budget was passed without the Raise the Age legislation proposed by the Governor’s Committee for Youth, Public Safety and Justice. These legislative proposals will have to be approved in the regular legislative session in June. The final budget, which passed in the Senate did approve the funding needed for Raise the Age. It states that “the budget acknowledges the importance of raising the age of criminal responsibility by including funding that will be immediately available to local governments to ensure readiness, as well as other funding that will be available upon enactment of legislation to Raise the Age that is expected this legislative session.”

An expectation is not an assurance. We need fierce and dedicated advocates to pick up the reins and continue to apply pressure on our local legislators to fight for this legislation. New York community foundations are providing the push necessary to get this important legislation passed. Cali Brooks, the Executive Director of the Adirondack Foundation and Tynesha McHarris, the Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Director of Community Leadership, are two women leading this movement and who provided information for this article.

The Adirondack Foundation is one of 24 community foundations across the state of New York. They support life in the geographic region of the Adirondacks, specifically in the areas of environmental health and the health of families. The Adirondack Foundation is not a justice organization but they are mobilizing other community trusts to say that the just treatment of young people involved in the legal system is important for our state.

These community foundations have collaborated to educate one another, as well as the public to apply collective pressure on the capital. Ten community foundations wrote letters to various newspaper editors in support of ‘Raise the Age’, which can be found in the Resources section of this blog. The letter brought attention at the local county level in Northern NY to the issue of unfair treatment of young people in the criminal justice system, as well as garnered the attention of local attorneys. Social media is also a tool the Adirondack Foundation is using to keep their community aware of the Raise the Age campaign.

The unfair treatment of young people in the criminal justice system is inextricable from issues related to racial equality. The Adirondack Foundation acknowledges this and to bring attention, they recently started the Adirondack Diversity Advisory Council. ADAC’s mission “is to develop and promote strategies to help the Adirondack Park become more welcoming and inclusive of all New Yorkers, both visitors and permanent residents.” While New York is a white minority state, many rural areas of New York are still predominately white. Recognizing that Northern NY is not as racially diverse as other parts of the state, this council will offer advice and support, as well as engage and participate in initiatives to be more inclusive.

By supporting ‘Raise the Age’ the Adirondack Foundation is aligning their goals with organizations that represent more racially diverse communities. Cali Brooks stated that this is “just the beginning for upstate-downstate mobilization.” She continued to say that since we are a state with an economy that is so interlinked, particularly to urban areas like Rochester and Buffalo, it is important to have a movement that connects both regions of our state.


Brooklyn Community Foundation is taking the lead in the city to organize other community foundations across the state to be responsible to local needs. They organized a briefing with the Adirondack Foundation and Rochester Community Foundation to show common interests particularly in how we treat our children. Brooklyn Community Foundation is starting to focus resources more in youth justice in light of ‘Raise the Age’, whereas in the past they focused more broadly on youth development and leadership.

Starting in January 2014, the Brooklyn Community Foundation launched Brooklyn Insights, a six-month project that brought the residents and leaders of Brooklyn together to discuss “the pressing needs of their communities, opportunities for change and strategies for collective action.” For the next ten years, this foundation will use what they have learned during this process to address the gross disparities in opportunity, and to improve the equity of outcomes for the residents of Brooklyn.

To gain a sense of people’s perceptions of Brooklyn, their sense of the challenges and opportunities facing the borough, and their wishes for concrete and sustainable community change, Brooklyn Community Foundation organized sector-based roundtables and neighborhood dialogues with over 300 people in one-on-one discussions, group conversations and town hall meetings in Coney Island, East New York and Sunset Park. The website and Community Engagement Fellows (seven high school students who ensured the voices of young people were integrated into the process by leading meetings and contributing their own analysis and recommendations) were used to inform Brooklyn communities throughout the process.

In all of these different conversations, five major themes arose repeatedly and the Foundation will use them as anchors for future work. They are neighborhood cohesion and the consequences of gentrification; opportunities for young people; the criminal justice system; immigrant communities; and racial justice. As it relates to the youth, poverty, education and unemployment are their most serious obstacles. For example, Brooklyn Community Foundation found that while the percentage of Brooklyn’s young people ages 16-24 who are neither in school nor working has declined since 2000 in low-income neighborhoods like Brownsville, still close to 30% of youth are not in school or employed. Racial disparities in youth incarceration is another issue of concern. Black and Latino young people comprise 57% of Brooklyn’s youth population but represent 95% of the young people admitted to juvenile detention facilities.

Like the Adirondack Foundation, Brooklyn Community Foundation acknowledges the role of institutional racism in youth justice. Ms. McHarris described Brooklyn Community Foundation’s approach as a move from a charity model to a justice model. She said, “philanthropy doesn’t always talk about racism beyond interpersonal relationships” which fails to acknowledge the important role and history of institutional racism. Brooklyn Community Foundation launches their Racial Justice Advisory Council within the next month. They would like to advance racial justice in Brooklyn by using their influence to leverage change. NYJJI and other foundations who are interested can bring funders together to coinvest and educate one another on strategies to improve outcomes for youth and racial justice.

Screen shot 2015-04-18 at 3.01.52 PM

An Appeal for Access to College Education in Prison

The New York Times printed an Op-Ed by inmate, John J. Lennon where he argues that wide spread access to massive open online courses in prisons will give prisoners a more productive way of using their time, a way to educate themselves and feel more connected. To read more, click here.


Children of the Incarcerated

A young person is more likely to become court involved if one of their parents has been incarcerated. Watch the short video below from Inside Out with Susan Modaress on children with incarcerated parents.


Ensuring the Health and Wellness of Youth in Juvenile Facilities

The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003 was created to combat sexual violence in correctional institutions, including jails, prisons, lockups, and in juvenile institutions. However, in 2013 9.5% of youth nationwide experienced sexual victimization; 7.7% reported an incident involving facility staff; 2.5% of youth reported an incident involving another youth; 0.7% of youth reported victimization by both staff and another youth. (BJS, 2013). See this article to read more about how to build a culture of zero-tolerance against sexual misconduct in juvenile facilities.


Screen shot 2015-04-18 at 3.32.45 PM

Widespread Incarceration of Youth for Status Offenses

Despite the stipulation that no child should be locked up for minor transgressions in the Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) in states receiving federal juvenile justice grants, many juveniles are still arrested for status offenses. More than half of U.S. states allow children to be detained for repeated nonviolent “status offenses” such as skipping school, running away from home or possession of alcohol. To read more about this new report by the Washington-based Coalition for Juvenile Justice, click here.


Responses to ‘Raise the Age’

Despite supporting proposals to raise the age of criminal responsibility, New York legislators fear the financial realities of passing this legislation. This Binghamton-based newspaper argues that the county’s probation department will have to increase staff in order to handle the influx of people who will be referred to probation for felonies and misdemeanors. Buffalo native and former juvenile offender, Keith Jones discusses the benefits of giving teen offenders more opportunities for community-based rehabilitation as opposed to incarceration. To read more, see here.


Juvenile Justice in America

This article provides a brief history of the juvenile court system in America. The author states that today the United States is an international outlier in the severity of its juvenile sentencing practices. Huffington Post published another article passionately advocating for juvenile justice policy that “acknowledges that while some kids may indeed need a period of secure care and rehabilitation, our current reliance on youth prisons is a national disgrace: expensive, ineffective, inhumane and contrary to our deeply held beliefs about the fundamental value and potential of each and every child.” To read more, click here. This Annie E. Casey Foundation video “Decisions,” depicts relatable situations which highlight many of the practices in the article that mirror real events in countless communities every day faced by young people.


Youth Transition Funders Group Learn From European Juvenile Justice 

Diane Sierpina wrote about her experience in early March with other New York City criminal and juvenile justice officials who visited London to learn how the justice system in the United Kingdom treats juveniles and young adults up to age 25. She states that from her trip she gained “an awareness that we Americans could do things a whole lot better if there is a will.” To read more about juvenile justice practice in the U.K and other lessons learned from this trip, click here.


U.S Prison Population Trends

A new analysis by The Sentencing Project reveals broad variation in nationwide incarceration trends.The total U.S. prison population declined by 2.4% since 2009. Five of the states with rising prison populations have experienced double-digit increases, led by Arkansas, with a 17% rise since 2008. New York has decreased its prison population by 29% since 2008 – the greatest reduction of all the states. To learn more, click here.

Continue reading

Update on Raise the Age 

The final New York state budget passed on April 1st, 2015 and many key pieces of legislation were absent including raising the age of criminal responsibility. It states that “the Budget acknowledges the importance of raising the age of criminal responsibility by including funding that will be immediately available to local governments to ensure readiness, as well as other funding that will be available upon enactment of legislation to Raise the Age that is expected this legislative session.” A Cuomo spokesmen confirmed that of the “$135 million, $110 million is for upgrading facilities so that younger teens can be held separate from adult defendants, according to the Division of the Budget.” Advocates, including the Children’s Defense Fund and ACLU, are pleading for passage in the Legislature: “By raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 from 16, New York will not only end its national shame but leapfrog our state into being a leader in promoting effective, humane and scientifically proven juvenile justice policies. New York would join California as one of the first large states to fully remove youth from adult prisons.”

The New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers agrees that “New York has the opportunity to be a nationwide leader for real, lasting, and comprehensive juvenile justice reforms” but they argue that the passing of this legislation will require further conversation and vetting by dozens of agencies. To read more, see here. Also District Attorney’s display concern regarding Cuomo’s juvenile justice reforms, according to this middletown local newspaper.

Screen shot 2015-04-05 at 9.14.08 PM

NPR’s All Things Considered supports raising the age in this piece. It explains that “in the past, prison and criminal justice reform proposals have been blocked by New York’s Republican-controlled State Senate, often with the backing of prosecutors and the state’s prison guard union.”

The Importance of Re-entry and Aftercare

This article highlights the importance of re-entry and aftercare services for ensuring educational advancement, reintegration into the community, and mental and emotional health. To learn more, see here.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

Screen shot 2015-04-05 at 9.08.40 PM

PBS Thirteen’s Frontline, Locked Up in America series examines the school-to-prison pipeline, which is characterized by “policies that disproportionately rout certain children — primarily blacks and Latinos — out of class and into the juvenile justice system” To read more, click here.

Continue reading

Ferguson: A Model for Change

Newly appointed director of the Schomburg Center, Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad explains how the change of leadership in Ferguson city administration and in the police department will allow for needed healing and systemic change. Fixing this broken relationship between police and community will necessitate a change to everyday policing, particularly in how individuals show decency and respect to one another.


The Fight to Raise the Age

Former Judge Michael Corriero and former Senator John R. Dunne show bipartisan support for Cuomo’s Raise the Age proposals in this article. They argue that the reforms are “smart, effective and consistent with American values” in that they strengthen the roles of families in the criminal justice system, help to identify those who are actually a danger to society, and allows for more appropriate therapeutic dispositions.


Support for Cuomo’s Juvenile Justice Reforms in the Philanthropic Community

Roderick Jenkins, NYJJI executive committee member wrote this article in support of the reforms which were suggested by Gov. Cuomo’s Commission on Youth, Public Safety & Justice. He states “my deep experience in this area tells us these kinds of changes will help keep our communities safe, even as they treat young offenders fairly. Several studies have shown that charging teenagers as adults makes it more likely that they will re-offend, putting our communities at risk. By charging teens in the Family Court system, judges are better able to make sure they get the services they need to go on to live a productive life.”

The philanthropic community is mobilizing in support for these reforms recently. Look in this blog’s Resources section to view these letters.



The Fight for Raising the Age Internationally

This article makes an appeal to raise the age of criminal responsibility in England, Northern Ireland and Wales from age 10. The average age in other countries in the European Union is 14. The author states that the approach to deal with “young people whose behaviour is causing concern within the child protection and welfare system reflects wider social and cultural attitudes towards children and young people.

Continue reading

Update on Raise The Age

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, member of the Commission on Youth, Public Safety, and Justice continues to support the recommendations to raise the age of criminal responsibility, saying “The message we are sending is that by raising the age at which teens are tried as adults, public safety really will be enhanced.” However, other lawmakers have put forth opposition due to the belief that there is nothing wrong with our current system, including Senate Republican Martin Golden of Brooklyn. Misinformation regarding the effects of the Commission’s recommendations among lawmakers and probation officers must be addressed in order to build bipartisan support. Statewide doubts regarding funding must also be addressed. Advocates for reforms, such as Eric. T. Schneiderman have used media and news outlet to dispel  misconceptions around juvenile mass incarceration. Schneiderman stated to the Newsday editorial board that the notion that mass incarceration makes us safer has been largely disproved, especially in New York, “It is not making us safer, it is massively expensive, and you can’t have a system where you’re dumping hundreds of thousands of people out of prisons into poor communities where they’re virtually unemployable.”

The New York State Court System also firmly supports Cuomo’s proposal to raise the age to 18 from 16. One concern raised regarding the recommendations is Family Court’s capacity to deal with an influx of cases. Acting Justice Lawrence Marks pointed out that a gubernatorial commission on which he served estimated that only about 6,800 new cases would go to Family Court, barely 1 percent of the court’s current caseload. Moreover, 20 new Family Court judges took the bench this year allowing them to better deal with new cases. To read more, click on the links in the text.


Rikers Island Conditions Still Unchecked24tue1web-articleLarge

Mayor De Blasio has shaken up the jail system’s management team, committed new resources to the reform project and pledged to make cleaning up the jails a top priority yet things have not changed for youth at Rikers. An investigation by Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz of The Times identified 62 cases in which inmates were seriously injured by corrections officers between August and January. To read more about these horrific incidents, read the investigation and this article.



The Disproportionate Effect of Incarceration on Girls of Color

A lot of research has focused on the disproportionate effect mass incarceration has had on communities of color but the effect on women and girls is less visible despite rising rates of female incarceration. The number of women in prison has increased at nearly double the rate of men since 1985 even though they are less likely to be incarcerated for violent offenses. The number of girls in the system has also increased from 17 percent in 1980 to 29 percent in 2011. Girls are more likely to be incarcerated for status offenses, they often receive harsher punishment than boys, and their incarceration is typically preceded by some form of victimization. Statistics show that 1 in every 14 Black children in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison, compared with one in every 125 white children.

To learn more about our girls of color in the system, read this article on mass incarceration, this op-ed, or this article on the effect of the school to prison pipeline on our girls.


Institutionalized Racism in the Juvenile Justice System


 Racial disparities in the juvenile justice system are increasing, according to Alexandra Cox, contributing writer with the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. She states that “the term disproportionate minority contact (DMC) assumes that by simply ensuring that all youth are treated in the same way, we will achieve racial equality” instead of acknowledging the role of structural racism in creating these disparities.  One example she provides is the treatment of youth in juvenile facilities that focus on behavioral control which were initially devised by primarily white psychologists whose goal it was to ensure a racialized social hierarchy. Instead Ms. Cox recommends “developing a juvenile justice system that departs from the individualist orientations of its European-American creators”. She states that it “is time to start acknowledging and privileging the forms of collective responsibility that people of African descent teach and value, and that have been of such significance in helping our nation grow.” To read more of this insightful critique, read here. Photo credit. 


Funding Juvenile Justice and Prison Reform

The MacArthur Fund awarded $500,000 to The John Howard Association of Illinois, a non-profit watchdog organization over Illinois’ criminal justice and prison systems. The award will allow the organization to fund and focus on “increasing communications, volunteer coordination and capacity, and public outreach and education.” This award signals a shift in priorities of the foundation’s criminal justice programs from juvenile justice focused to reducing local jail populations. The MacArthur Foundation announced on February 11th, 2015 that they will dedicate $75 million over five years to local jurisdictions that come up with innovative ways to reduce arrests and expedite trials. Research supports this initiative considering  that in the past 20 years the average stay for a jail inmate has grown from 14 days to more than three weeks and that 75 percent of inmates in community jails are there for nonviolent offenses. To learn more, follow the links in the text.


Precipitous Drop in Federal Funding for Juvenile Justice

In 2002, with the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, Congress appropriated $537 million for juvenile justice. Today, federal spending has been cut in half equaling to about $251 million, which falls below the local need of states to comply with standards on the care and custody of youths in the juvenile justice system. To learn more, read here.


Continue reading

Reflections on the Raise the Age Policy Recommendations

By Justine Gonzalez

On January 8, 2014, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in his State of the State address that “our juvenile justice laws are outdated.”  Noting that New York remains one of only two states that continues to prosecute youth as adults beginning at age 16, the Governor said, “It’s not right. It’s not fair. We must raise the age.”  On April 9, 2014, Governor Cuomo officially announced his appointees to the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and named as its co-chairs, Soffiyah Elijah (Executive Director of The Correctional Association of New York) and Jeremy Creelan (Partner, Jenner & Block and former Special Counsel to Gov. Cuomo).  The Commission’s purpose was to propose recommendations on how to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction and generally improve outcomes for young people involved in New York’s juvenile justice system while continuing to strengthen public safety.   The Commission was comprised of members representing a diverse group of stakeholders including representatives from the law enforcement, probation, advocacy, court system, and philanthropic communities.

The Commission’s Final Report, released on January 19, 2015, provides a comprehensive introduction to past reforms and the current state of New York’s juvenile justice system. The Commission recommends that state legislators raise the age of criminal responsibility to 17 by 2017 and 18 by 2018. The report goes on to suggest that the minimum age for juvenile jurisdiction also be increased to 12 from 7. Other recommendations include expanding youthful offender status to include youth up to 20 years old and to allow nonviolent offenders between 18 and 21 to have their records sealed if they are not convicted of any crimes for the subsequent five years.

Informed by research on the collateral consequences of incarceration of juveniles, the Commission’s recommendations address how youth are treated at every phase of justice system contact: when arrested, when processed by the court system, and when detained or incarcerated. It is in light of these considerations that they recommend removing all youth from adult facilities and out of solitary confinement altogether.

Elizabeth Glazer, the NYC Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, spoke emphatically about the Commission findings, stating that “These recommendations will ensure an evidence-driven, total modernization of New York State’s juvenile justice practices that will improve both public safety and long-term outcomes for troubled young people in our City and State”[1].

The effort to create a more age appropriate juvenile justice system is also an investment in the health and well-being of all New Yorkers. Commission Co-chair Soffiyah Elijah drives this point home, saying that “our children are our most precious and valuable resource. How we respond to their youthful mistakes and misdeeds determines the society we create for ourselves. We must provide them with all the protections, supports and opportunities to succeed. The Commission’s Recommendations seek to accomplish that.”

Angelo Pinto, the Raise the Age Campaign Manager at the Correctional Association of New York further reinforces just how indispensable these reforms are to the health and safety of New York, stating that “raising the age of criminal responsibility will transform New York’s criminal justice landscape, bringing New York in line with a vast body of research about what works to reduce crime and help young people. It is our belief that these reforms will reduce the number of individuals who come in contact with the system, and improve outcomes- including public safety- for those kids who are justice-involved.”

Emily Tow Jackson, the President and Executive Director of the Tow Foundation and member of the Commission on Youth, Public Safety, and is “thrilled that the Governor has embraced the recommendations of the Commission in total. It represents taking New York from being behind in justice reform to potentially being a national leader.” Notably, she reflected on the importance of consensus in this process, “Everyone on the Commission came together on a set of recommendations that we all felt was a very important step in the right direction. It is important to rally behind these recommendations and not focus on what wasn’t included.”

While Governor Cuomo indicated he would embrace the Commission’s recommendations in his 2015 State of the State address, significant work remains in order to guarantee these reforms are implemented and carried out as smoothly and effectively as possible.

To navigate the contours of a difficult political process, often fraught with challenges raised out of fear of being “soft on crime” and a return of the “bad old days,” special attention must be paid to messaging and communication.  Soffiyah Elijah, in an interview with the New York Juvenile Justice Initiative coordinator, stated that “in order to ensure that these policy proposals turn into actual reform they need to be thoroughly understood and widely embraced across the state. Our elected officials need to know that their constituents want these changes. Our youth justice system is extremely complex. Finding a way to translate it into talking points that the public and elected officials will understand and embrace is essential. Advocacy campaigns that include these components on a state-wide basis must be supported by philanthropic efforts in order for New York to successfully reform its youth justice system.”

It is important to engage and educate the entire community on the benefits of these reforms, even without directly supporting legislation. Emily Tow Jackson hopes “we can come together and support some educational forums for groups like correction officers and police chiefs and others from the law enforcement community, as well as other groups who might express concerns. We can help create materials and forums for them to ask questions and get better information on the potential benefits of Raise the Age.” She believes funders can support advocacy efforts by organizing groups of families and those affected by these reforms to offer testimony and to bolster lobbying and communication that is necessary to get this legislation passed. Ms. Tow Jackson went on to say that funders can give general unrestricted funding to advocacy groups so that they can mobilize legislators and other stakeholders in Albany.

The philanthropic community can play a pivotal role in the advancement of these reforms. Angelo Pinto believes that “the philanthropic community has been an important partner in supporting advocacy organizations to create the groundswell that enabled us to get this far, and will be crucial to the on-going advocacy needed to pass legislation and ensure its successful implementation. The Commission’s carefully crafted recommendations reflect a consensus among a diverse group of stakeholders about the concrete steps necessary to take our state from last in the nation to national leader.”

[1] (