Inmates at Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles.New federal data show that suicide has reached crisis proportions in local jails, where psychiatric care appears to be particularly poor. This situation is especially alarming, given that 12 million people — many with mental illnesses — will cycle through local jails this year. Read more.

American incarceration is not a problem with consequences that have been levied evenly across gender, and racial lines.  African American males make up nearly half of all American prisoners (with a total of around 800,000 people imprisoned). This represents a 559 percent increase in the number of black men behind bars since 1980. To read more about the trends of mass incarceration, see this article.

Immigration detention is now the “largest mass incarceration movement in U.S. history. In FY 2012, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detained a record 477,523 adult noncitizens. Since the Obama Administration announced its detention reform initiative in 2009, the number of noncitizens DHS detains yearly has increased by nearly 25 percent. Since passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIIRIRA) in 1996, it has expanded over fivefold. To read more about how mass incarceration affects non-citizens, click here.

How New York’s leading on criminal-justice reform

After President Obama toured the El Reno Federal Correction Institution in Oklahoma, making him the first sitting president to visit a federal prison, Governor Cuomo published a response in the New York Post. Cuomo discusses what his administration has done for criminal justice reform as well as his executive order for a special prosecutor. Yet he remains vague about what he intends to do to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Read more here.

John Legend published an article in Time Magazine regarding his reflections on US mass incarceration. He discusses his personal experiences with the war on drugs, as well as a description of how Portugal has decriminalized drug-use. To read more of this insightful piece, see here.

President Barack Obama during a recent visit to the federal prison in Oklahoma “reflected on the way some young people end up in prison for mistakes “that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made.” These actions, along with his decision to commute the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders last week, underscore his determination to do something about America’s scandalous incarceration rate…Federal-level sentencing reform for drug crimes is certainly most welcome, but it would barely put a dent in America’s overall incarceration rate. Drug offenders make up only about a fifth of America’s prison population, and less than 15% of America’s prisoners are housed in federal cells.To really roll back the prison-industrial complex, it is necessary to reduce sentences for violent criminals at the state level, too. That’s a tougher sell. It involves not only considering its racial inequities and costly bloat, but also the moral failures of a system that doles out punishments that are out of proportion with their crimes.” See here to learn more about this Economist author’s reflections on the prison industrial complex.

Motivated by economic factors, both parties are currently crafting a bill that will reform federal sentencing laws. One idea is to expand safety valve provisions that give judges discretion to sentence low-level drug offenders to less time in prison. Another would be to allow low-risk offenders to participate in recidivism programs to earn up to a 25% reduction of their sentence. Read more about these political options in this New York Times piece.

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What Happened With Raise The Age?

After the end of a long session that dragged nearly a week past its scheduled conclusion, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders reached a tentative deal yesterday, June 23rd, 2015. Unfortunately there was no legislative consensus in respect to raising the age of criminal responsibility. However, to address the issue Governor Cuomo will pass an executive order to move move state prison inmates ages 16 and 17 to separate facilities that are managed jointly by the Department of Corrections and the Office of Children and Family Services. Cuomo stated that “this was a very difficult year,” Cuomo said during the press conference to announce the deal. “There were extraordinary developments. I don’t think you could find another year in the state’s history where you saw the number of changes and the major changes that were made from the legislative year.” There were not many criminal justice reforms included in the final deal and not much mention in the news but City & State, Time Warner Cable’s State of Politics, the Gothamist, and The New York Times referred to this executive order without providing any further details.

May 28, 2015-Coxsackie, NY--  Governor Andrew M. Cuomo tours the Special Housing Unit of the Greene Correctional Facility.

May 28, 2015-Coxsackie, NY– Governor Andrew M. Cuomo tours the Special Housing Unit of the Greene Correctional Facility.

 

Unfortunately, this potential mandate does not adequately address the concerns of public who strongly believe in raising the age of criminal responsibility. Alexandra Cox writes that “Teenagers charged with crimes are currently being treated as bargaining chips in a New York state legislative battle over raising the age of criminal responsibility. Democratic lawmakers want to raise the age from 16 to 18, but seem poised to make a compromise with Republican lawmakers who want to create a prison for this group of teenagers charged with felonies – where they would be segregated from adults in prison, but prosecuted as adults. This could have serious and damaging consequences for the safety and survival of these teenagers and does not promote public safety.” To read more, click here.

The Marshall Project published a piece that critiques Cuomo’s actions even further stating that 13 – 18 year olds charged with violent felonies are not being appropriately addressed in the proposals that arose this session. “These are often the kids we don’t want to talk about,” said Krista Larson, director of the Center for Youth Justice at the Vera Institute, a nonprofit that helped staff Cuomo’s commission. “We want to talk about the kid who stole the Snickers bar and ended up confined. It’s an easier reform conversation. But these kids”—those accused of armed robberies, assaults, and homicides—“are kids too. They have whole lives in front of them. That said, these are real crimes, with real victims.” Read more about this argument and the story of one young man impacted directly by our lack of legislation, click here.

 

There still remains a desire for reform in this area. Republican Sen. Pat Gallivan, for example, a former county sheriff who helped negotiate the juvenile justice issues, said the issue should continue to be discussed next year. “It’s appropriate we continue the conversation,” Gallivan said. “I don’t think anybody can make the argument that we provide sufficient programming and rehabilitation services for 16 and 17 year olds, and as a matter of fact all of the peple who are going to return to society.” Gallivan stated in this State of Politics article, that “he did not oppose the governor issuing an executive order, in part because New York is already out of compliance with federal law by housing 16- and 17-year-olds with an adult prison population.”

 

Rikers Island Reform

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In the wake of Kalief Browder’s death, the public has refocused their critical eye on Rikers Island. Many advocates have written to the New York Times with their thoughts on Mr. Browder and the importance of raising the age.  “Last year, the city eliminated solitary confinement for adolescents at Rikers. The court system has put in place a new plan to shorten court delays and to prevent people from being held for lengthy periods without trial.” According to The New York Times “these are important changes. But a serious, legally enforceable reform plan will be needed to remake what a damning Justice Department report issued last August described as a “deep-seated culture of violence” at the jail. The report called for a thorough overhaul of Correction Department operations and also recommended that adolescents be removed from Rikers and placed in a facility elsewhere.” To learn more, see here.

Still, some remain unconvinced of the court system’s ability to implement these important changes. “Throughout the hugely inefficient system, delays are routine — caused by everything from scheduling conflicts among prosecutors and defense lawyers to failure of witnesses to show up and too few judges to hear cases…As of last month, more than 400 people at Rikers had been locked up for more than two years without being convicted of a crime, according to a report on Tuesday in The Times by Michael Schwirtz and Michael Winerip. The plan can succeed only if judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, corrections officials and other participants in the justice system stop blaming one another for court delays and work closely together to do away with them.” Read more.

On June 17th, 2015 the City Council held a hearing on  proposed reforms to the bail system such as a proposal to allocate $1.4 million for bail for poor defendants. “At the same time, state court administrators released data showing that judges had made progress in reducing the backlog by moving cases to trial or working out plea bargains… Judge Lawrence K. Marks, the first deputy chief administrative judge, said that in the first two months of the initiative, judges sitting in special courts set up to address the backlog had cleared 42 percent of the 1,427 cases that Judge Lippman and Mr. de Blasio targeted. That has led to a 10 percent reduction in the number of defendants at Rikers who have been waiting more than a year for trial, officials said.” Learn more about the progress that has been made.

 

Groundswell Mural in Rikers Island

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“Groundswell, in partnership with the NYC Department of Correction and NYC Department of Education, celebrated a mural unveiling at a dedication on June 11th, 2015. Designed by a talented team of young women at the Rose M. Singer Center at Rikers Island, the mural imaginesrestorative futures for themselves and other women who have been or are incarcerated. To create this mural, entitled “The Freedom Within,” the team of young women artists reflected on their personal experiences during an intensive public artmaking program, presented with the support of the New York City Council through its STARS Citywide Girls Initiative. Lead Artist Jessica Poplawski and Assistant Artist Lauren Baccus led the programming for the youth, and as a team they created the message and design that reflected the transformation necessary to create positive restorative futures.”

Groundswell, New York City’s leading organization dedicated to community public art, brings together youth, artists, and community partners, to make public art that advances social change, for a more just and equitable world. Our projects beautify neighborhoods, engage youth in societal and personal transformation, and give expression to ideas and perspectives that are underrepresented in the public dialogue. To learn more, visit www.groundswell.nyc. Photo credit: The New York City Department of Corrections.

 

Juvenile Justice Reform

“A recently introduced pair of bills in Congress may try to address the plight of juveniles for the first time in 13 years. Piggybacking off of a bipartisan Senate bill that would strengthen youth programming, promote safer detention conditions, and emphasize community-based alternatives to detention under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), Rep. Robert “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) just introduced a bill that would re-establish a set of guidelines for the treatment of youth in the juvenile justice system. Should the new bill make its way through Congress, it will mark the first time since 2002 that the system will enforce national standards for young people behind bars.” To read more about the potential juvenile justice reform, click here.

 

Police-Community Relations and Race

The New York Times published an article on June 20th, 2015 entitled From Ferguson to Charleston and Beyond, Anguish About Race Keeps Building. The author positions recent acts of violence against young black men and the recent massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC in the context of institutionalized racism. The author states that “America is living through a moment of racial paradox…It has become commonplace to refer to the generation of young people known as millennials as “post-racial.” Bryan Stevenson, referenced in this article stated that “all of these examples in some ways are really misleading in what they represent…We have an African-American president who cannot talk about race, who is exposed to hostility anytime he talks about race. These little manifestations of black artistry and athleticism and excellence have always existed. But they don’t change the day-to-day experience of black Americans living in most parts of this country.” To read more of this very insightful article on the role of historical and institutional racism and its impact on the criminal justice system, click here.

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Perhaps as a result of the very public acts of violence by the NYPD, Bratton intends to return to the “neighborhood policing” style. The City Council approved a budget that will increase the size of the police force across the five boroughs. Mr. Bratton said, patrol officers across the city will be assigned to fixed areas of their precincts and given time to address neighborhood concerns without being interrupted by 911 calls. “It is not a program,” Mr. Bratton said of the new approach. “It will be how the N.Y.P.D. intends to, over the coming years, police the city.” To learn more, read this article and this other article on the negotiations that led to this policy.

 

 

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Recent Timeline of “Raise the Age NY”

In a little over a week, on June 17th, 2015 the New York State Legislative session will end. Yet we are unclear whether any legislation will pass resulting from the recommendations by the Governor’s Commission for Youth, Public Safety and Justice. I have compiled below a timeline of “raise the age” news from the last two weeks.

May 26th, 2015:

According to Capital New York Assemblyman Joe Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat who heads the Assembly codes committee, “introduced a bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility, which would change the age at which minors may be tried as adults for various felonies, as well as the way courts handle juvenile delinquent cases. The bill, co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Velmanette Montgomery, would also try minors in family court rather than criminal courts.”

Republican senators told Capital New York that they’re concerned how the implementation of the proposal would affect already overburdened family courts. “We’re still believing that the impact of the implementation needs to be further analyzed and put forward to the Legislature before we can enact this,” said Nozzolio, a Republican from Seneca County.

The Legislature has approved $135 million for the program but the money will not be spent and will carry over into the next session if the Legislature doesn’t approve the proposal by the end of the session. According to Morris Peters, a spokesman for the division of budget,  $25 million is allocated for the raise the age program and an additional $110 million is for facility upgrades for the Office of Children and Family Services when they would absorb youth transitioning out of the adult system.

See the whole article here.

May 27th, 2015:

The New York Daily News released a piece by Governor Cuomo, advocating for “increasing the state’s age of criminal responsibility as an adult to 18 and providing more appropriate handling of young defendants’ criminal cases.

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He describes his role in pushing forward juvenile justice reform since he has been in office citing Close to Home and the Governor’s Commission of Youth, Public Safety and Justice. Cuomo discusses the changing juvenile justice landscape as well: “We know far more about brain development in adolescents today than we once did. We know that the part of the brain that controls impulsive behavior and weighs long-term consequences develops last. As a result of these differences, young people are less culpable than adults, and they hold greater promise for change. The Supreme Court has relied on this research as the basis for recent decisions outlawing juvenile death penalties, prohibiting juvenile sentences of life without parole for all crimes except homicide and outlawing mandatory life without parole for any juvenile.

Read more, here.

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May 28th, 2015:

Governor Cuomo visited the Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie and urged the Legislature to reach an agreement on a proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility. The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association estimate that there are roughly 100 sixteen and seventeen year old inmates in state prisons; these inmates would benefit from a “hybrid” facility run by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and the Office of Children and Family Services, advocated by Governor Cuomo. Read more.

May 29th, 2015: 

Times Union covers the Governor’s visit at the juvenile correctional facility. In the aftermath, the state Conservative Party sent a memo on the proposal to lawmakers, urging them to vote ”no” since they believe it would send the wrong message. Assembly Republican Minority Leader Brian Kolb said the following:

The risks associated with tying the court’s hands are enormous. Trying young adults in Family Court for serious crimes as opposed to Criminal Court will mean those criminal actions will not carry the same consequences for offenders who continue to commit serious crimes. Records that are sealed in Family Court will require judges and prosecutors to treat subsequent crimes as first offenses, even though these offenders may have a history of committing violent crimes. Young adults should be expected to be accountable for their behavior.

The author of this piece comments that “being badly outnumbered by Democrats, the Assembly Republican opposition may not count for much. But with Senate Republicans living with the nagging fear that some of their more moderate members could face primaries by competitors with Conservative backing, the proposal could continue to be held up in the legislature.”

June 2nd, 2015:

Governor Cuomo faces dissent from the Democractic-led Assembly regarding his proposal to house minors in the criminal justice system in new facilities separate from the adult population.”

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan hinted at splitting the proposal and acting on the governor’s “hybrid” facility. O’Donnell, head of the correction committee, said that if the governor and Republican-led Senate took up the housing proposal but not the portion to raise the age of criminal responsibility, which also seeks to try minors in family courts rather than criminal courts, that they would be “missing the point.” “The problem with our system is that it’s antiquated and it’s not in line with what the rest of the country does,” said O’Donnell, a Democrat from Manhattan. “So if you intend to keep on convicting children as adults but you say ‘we’re going to house you differently’ that doesn’t address the problem.”

Assemblyman Joe Lentol says he’s worried that if the Assembly acts on the proposal, the Senate will be done with the issue. He says “I’m afraid that Senate will just finish the issue if we do just that, rather than a more comprehensive legislative approach. … I would welcome a facility that would provide needed services to children so that they can get them. But without a meaningful legislative proposal to raise the age it’s hard for me to consider it.” To read this entire Capital New York article, click here.

 

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The Raise the Age Lobby Day also occurred on June 2nd, 2015 at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, N.Y.  

Sarah Yergeau, Program and Policy Associate of the Westchester Children’s Association, one of the organizers of the event, spoke with me on June 4th, 2015 about the event. The event was organized as well by Raise the Age NY and funded by the Children’s Defense Fund. The goal was to have meetings with state lawmakers about raising the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York.

Organizations like Justice League NY and Youth Represent attended and brought community members to the event. Ms. Yergueau estimated that there were around 100 attendees ranging from Long Island, Albany, Westchester and New York City. The event began with a press conference where different speakers shared their personal accounts. Speakers included Cadeem Gibbs, a formerly incarcerated youth at Riker’s Island, and Alicia Barazza, an Albany mother whose son committed suicide during a 17-year long sentence for arson while placed in the general population section of an adult prison. Advocates met in small groups with the representatives of their areas following the press conference. Long Island Senators Flannigan and Martin were amongst those in attendance. To read more about the event, see here.

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Photo Credit (below): Sarah Yergeau. Left to right, Cadeem Gibbs (advocate), Allison Lake (Deputy Director, Westchester Children’s Association), Paige Pierce (CEO, Families Together of New York State), Charles Nuñez from Youth Represent. 

Ms. Yergeau explained that all the Democrats in the Assembly are now supportive of reform but Republicans are concerned with appearing soft on crime as well as the costs of implementing changes to the current system. She believes that if legislation is not passed this session then it will be next year.

The consequence of delaying reform is that legislation will not be retroactive and there will be no justice for the youth impacted by the criminal justice system in this upcoming year. According to the Raise the Age NY Campaign “nearly 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are arrested and face the possibility of prosecution as adults in criminal court each year – the vast majority for minor crimes (75.3% are misdemeanors).”

The collateral consequences of delaying reform are tragic and extreme. Each year, about 1,600 minors in New York are saddled with criminal records that will create barriers to success for the rest of their lives in terms of employment, access to higher education and civic engagement. These young people in the adult prison system are also much more likely to be sexually and physically assaulted during their incarceration. As a result of this trauma many young people are unable to re-enter society after their incarceration. ‘

The New Yorker recently told the story of  Kalief Browder, who spent three years on Rikers Island without being convicted of a crime. Mr. Browder was arrested at age 16 for robbery and while awaiting trial he spent about two years of his three year tenure in solitary confinement. He suffered horrible abuses during his incarceration and when released he wanted the world to know what he had gone through. Despite gaining public support and experiencing some success in his pursuit of higher education, Kalief still suffered from lingering trauma. He committed suicide this year, after many previous attempts. To read this emotional story, click here.

New York state is able to and must pass effective and smart legislation to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Our communities need to support our neediest young people instead of adhering to draconian laws to punish rather than rehabilitate them.

While there remains little time to change our Legislators’ minds, Sarah Yergeau encourages the public to get the word out about why we must change the age of criminal responsibility in New York. Post on your social media accounts, organize and send petitions and letters to put pressure on your legislators. The Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York has posted a campaign letter to legislators urging them to pass comprehensive raise the age legislation this session. To read and sign the petition, click here.

A Close New Look at ‘Close to Home’

On May 20th, 2015, The Center for New York City Affairs launched a new, ongoing, investigative project to assess the Close to Home reforms. The investigation reveals that Close to Home programs have righted themselves after a rocky start, marred by high incidence of kids going AWOL from grouphomes and high staff turnover. Incidents of residents going AWOL shrank by more than 50% in Close to Home’s second full year of operation. The rate of kids being returned to Upstate facilities also decreased, even as the number of offenders in the program steadily grew. The website includes postings related to the backstories of Close to Home residents, a closer look at the day to day operations of Close to Home residences, and successes and shortcomings in re-engaging Close to Home kids and their families.

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Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline

The CSG Justice Center published their most recent report, The School Discipline Consensus Report with strategies from the field on how to keep students engaged in school and away from the juvenile justice system. This comprehensive report presents nearly two dozen policy statements to guide multidisciplinary approaches to meet the needs of both youth and educators while addressing student misbehavior, and 60 recommendations that explain how to implement these policies. They reflect a consensus of stakeholders  with more than 100 advisors representing school administrators, teachers, behavioral health professionals, police, court leaders, probation officials, juvenile correctional administrators, parents, and youth from across the country. Approximately 600 additional practitioners, researchers, policymakers, and agents of change were consulted over the three-year project that culminated in this report. To view the report, click here. You may also view it in the News and Reports section of this blog.

Schneiderman Adressing the School-to-Prison Pipeline in NY

This month, US Senator Schneiderman, wrote in the New York Nonprofit Media, “With this compelling evidence—and with a new generation of activists demanding change—it is time to build on this work, expand our coalition and pursue a whole new level of criminal justice reform. We should start by addressing the root causes that drive some of our young people to commit crime.” In the article, he refers to the importance of Raise the Age as being aligned with ending the school-to-prison pipeline.

Obama: Smart on Juvenile Justice

The Obama administration is seeking in its fiscal year 2016 juvenile justice budget a $30 million initiative known as “Smart on Juvenile Justice.” The initiative is designed to help states decrease youth incarceration while increasing community-based alternatives to locking kids up and reducing racial and ethnic disparities. Congress has yet to approve the requested funding, though the Obama administration has funded a pilot of the program, rolled out last year in Georgia, Hawaii and Kentucky, working with private foundations and the Washington-based nonprofitPew Charitable Trust’s Public Safety Performance Project. Read more, here.

Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice

In the book published by the Brennan Center for Justice, Solutions: American Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice Reform, the country’s most prominent public figures and experts join together to propose ideas for change. In these original essays, many authors speak for the first time on the issue. The vast majority agree that reducing our incarcerated population is a priority. An article in the Bloomberg Politics assesses the 2016 hopefuls messages regarding criminal justice reform. To read more about this new book and the views of the leaders featured in it, click here.

Major Momentum for Criminal Justice Reform Post-Baltimore

While the media reflects an unusual bipartisan consensus in Washington on the need to overhaul the justice system, their ideas on how exactly to reform the system diverge. There are two sets of ideas about how to move ahead. One set of reform proposals puts more weight on changing federal sentencing laws at the front end so less people are incarcerated in the first place. The other idea is to change the law to make it easier for low-risk inmates to earn credits to leave prison months or years early. They also want to create a federal commission to study all the other problems, such as rebuilding confidence in police. To learn more, see the article or listen to the podcast from NPR’s All Things Considered hereScreen shot 2015-05-25 at 12.38.48 PM

Gaining Support in NY House of Representatives for Raise the Age

“15 House members — most of whom hail from downstate — endorsed Cuomo’s plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18. The proposal is a key piece of Cuomo’s juvenile justice reform agenda, which he is hoping to pass before the end of this year’s legislative session. One of the House members who joined the Raise the Age campaign is U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a former Nassau County district attorney. Two upstate law enforcement officers, Albany Police Chief Steve Krokoff and Madison County Sheriff Allen Riley, have also appeared in a video supporting the effort.” This upcoming month, June 2015, is when the decision will be made regarding Raise the Age — the first phase calls for increasing the age of criminal responsibility to 17 years old on Jan. 1, 2017. The age would be raised to 18 years old on Jan. 1, 2018. To see more, view here.

Mass Incarceration Punishes Children of the Incarcerated

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The cycle of incarceration tears families apart and make the children of the incarcerated parent more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system themselves.More than 2.7 million children under 18 have a parent behind bars, according to a 2010 report from The Pew Charitable Trusts, a research and public policy nonprofit organization. That means that 1 in 28 children in the U.S. have an incarcerated parent. In contrast, 25 years ago, the number was 1 in 125, according to the report. To read more about a CUNY Graduate School of Journalism student’s prison photography program, click here. The 2010 Pew Report on incarceration’s effect on Economic Mobility can be viewed in this blog’s News and Reports section.

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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.

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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 BrooklynInsights.org 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.

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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.

 

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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.

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