On July 14th, with the help of Yumari Martinez from Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), NYJJI coordinated a trip to two Close to Home facilities in the Bronx – Manida, a Non-Secure Placement (NSP) facility run by Leake and Watts, and the Bruner Avenue Limited -Secure Placement (LSP) facility run by Sheltering Arms. We also visited the Bronx Hope Passages Academy in the Bronx. Our group consisted of eight NYJJI members, including the Brooklyn Community Foundation, Pinkerton Foundation, Prospect Hill Foundation, and three representatives from ACS.
Through his role as the Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Planning, Policy & Performance in the Division of Youth and Family Justice at ACS, Mr. Martinez gave us a very thorough overview of the Close to Home structure and updates on the implementation of these homes throughout New York City. As of this year, ACS launched six new limited-secure placement Close to Home (CTH) sites, the second phase of this initiative. CTH provides “integrated and comprehensive educational and mental health services…to help juvenile offenders…in their own communities”. The first phase of the program launched several non-secure placement facilities throughout the five boroughs.
Leake and Watts, a non-profit children and family services agency runs a variety of services including foster care, family stabilization, child care and education, special education, residential care for individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities in addition to adolescents and juvenile justice services. Leake & Watts currently operates 2 NSPs, 1 LSP in the Bronx and is about to open a new LSP in Brooklyn. Throughout all NSP facilities there are 237 beds available for NYC youth.
The day we visited the Manida NSP there were only 8 kids, (though they were at school at the time) even though the facility has capacity for 12 kids. This dorm-room style, open layout, two floor facility can host youth between the ages of 12-17, with the majority being between 14-16 years old (around 60-70%). The average length of stay is 6-7 months.
In a regular day, there are three frontline staff on duty at each shift. Leake & Watts uses the Missouri Youth Services Model, which had not been previously used with detention and calls for an “eyes on, ears on, heart on” approach.
Limited secure placement sites are more stringent facilities serving youth who are deemed to pose a higher risk to the community. These LSP facilities are run by only three non profits, Leake & Watts, Children’s Village, and Sheltering Arms. There are 66 beds for youth within the 5 existing LSP facilities.
The Bruner Avenue Limited -Secure Placement (LSP) facility (operated by Sheltering Arms) has a capacity of 12 beds, all for young men. Sheltering Arms uses the Integrated Treatment Model. On average the youth in this LSP facility are serving 12-18 month sentences, with the possibility of a reduced sentence for good behavior. Following their sentence, they can have up to 6 months of aftercare. One distinction between non-secure placement and limited-secure placement contracts is that LSP providers are required to provide their own re-entry services such as aftercare.
The Bruner Ave LSP was divided into two sides, in order to separate the youth in the Intensive Support program (ISP). ISP is available to all limited-secure placement youth, no matter the provider-organization. If a young person is deemed to be “in crisis” he/she can get referred to ISP for up to 30 days, though the typical stay is two-three weeks. Displaying patterns of disruptive behavior that involve violent acts would get a young person referred to an ISP. There are 8 ISP programs throughout different facilities. According to Sheltering Arms staff, they have only had 5-6 ISP referrals since January of 2016.
Opponents and critics of the implementation of Close to Home facilities have cited the outstanding delays to the launch of the second phase of the program. Within this first year there were also been some troubling safety concerns following a few AWOL incidents. Some communities in which these facilities are located have been critical of this initiative and the impact it has on their neighborhood. While part of the CTH program calls for the development of local community advisory boards, ACS officials have recognized that there is still room for improvement in this area.
With an initiative of this size, scope, and importance, challenges were to be expected. Many continue to acknowledge that the support systems created by ACS initiatives such as Close to Home have dramatically improved the quality of services for NYC youth caught in the system. ACS has increased its efforts to ensure safety and decrease AWOLs. For example, the percentage of young people leaving a NSP placement for more than 24 hours without permission was 27% in May of 2013 and as of September 2015 the percentage dropped to 4.8%.
We witnessed and learned of positive programming in the placement facilities and and at Passages Academies, such as Bronx Hope. In the picture above of a Groundswell mural located in the bottom floor of Bronx Hope, we see images of beauty, perseverance and (pun intended) hope. The youth who attended Bronx Hope at the time were able to collaborate on the design and painting of this mural, with the help of teaching artists. Another educational program we witnessed, was a technology-based Google training initiative through the New York Public Library where students can accumulate credits.
The Bronx Hope Passages Academy, run through the Department of Education’s District 79, employs 19 certified teachers and 4 social workers. They provide education transitional services and create a temporary education plan in the first week of intake that is also used at the detention facility. Youth from different placement and detention facilities attend school together at Bronx Hope, even though the administration makes an attempt to separate classes according to the residential facility.
In March of 2018, the Close to Home Initiative is up for reauthorization.