NEW YORK - Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has outlined a comprehensive plan to overhaul the State’s juvenile justice system by allowing localities the authority to operate all juvenile services. The plan comes after decades of dysfunction and waste by a State system with some of the highest recidivism rates in the country: 81 percent of young men are rearrested within three years. The current system also sends young people hundreds of miles away from their families and interrupts education. The plan outlined would allow for a community based approach giving the City the flexibility to change levels of supervision and services based on the progress of the youths in the facilities. The plan was unveiled after the Mayor, Reverend Al Sharpton, Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs and the Mayor’s Chief Advisor for Policy and Strategic Planning John Feinblatt traveled to Tompkins County to visit the Finger Lakes facility and met with young men who spent time in City-run programs.
“The facilities run by the State are relics of a bygone era, when troubled city kids were stripped from their families and shipped to detention centers in remote rural areas,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “We know there is a better way to help these kids get their lives back on track, while also saving taxpayers millions of dollars. We simply cannot continue to support a system that has some of the highest recidivism rates in the country. New York City should be allowed to use these resources to further develop its juvenile justice program, which already has had success in helping young people turn their lives around and better protecting the community.”
“I have had a long time concern about allegations of abuse in State facilities that could be monitored more easily if juveniles were closer to their families,” said Reverend Al Sharpton. “The economic burden put on families that want to visit their children is burdensome and it is important to the reform of juveniles that they have a connection to families and friends so they are not just retained but reformed. The ultimate goal should be for them to be brought back to a family and community environment – not just isolated and dropped back off.”
To set the stage for the transfer of the juvenile justice system, New York City is calling on the State to:
Enact legislation that would allow for more expeditious closing of State-run facilities and the transfer of operation of those facilities to localities;
Sign an executive order giving localities the authority to immediately begin working with youth in local non-secure facilities; and
Set a rate structure freeing up resources to fund local facilities and community-based programs.
By keeping youth close to home and allowing them to maintain or establish ties with their families and communities, these programs will promote rehabilitation and long-term success for at-risk youth. Such programs would also help troubled youths avoid lapses in education and ensure that they receive academic credit for their work in custodial settings. Unfortunately, none of the upstate juvenile justice facilities have accredited schools, so young people returning from the State are often more behind in their coursework than when they left.
New York City has already had success in running local alternatives to placement programs. The Children’s Services Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI) and the Department of Probation’s Esperanza Program provide intensive services for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Together these programs have been providing about 1,000 youths with in-home services or after-care programs and offer intensive supervision and services for delinquent youth who would otherwise serve time in institutional settings. These programs also offer transitional and re-entry therapeutic services. Similar models used in other jurisdictions have demonstrated decreases in recidivism. The City has also demonstrated that it can not only reduce detention rates for youth with cases moving through Family Court, but also cut recidivism by targeting resources where they are needed most. In 2007, the City introduced a Risk Assessment Instrument for youth facing delinquency charges that helped judges appropriately match youth to community programs and detention. Between 2006 and 2008, re-arrest rates for youth with pending cases dropped from 26 percent to 17 percent, even though 22 percent fewer youth were detained at arraignment.
“The Mayor’s reforms in juvenile justice have proven New York City can do a better job serving young people in our communities at a lower cost to taxpayers,” said Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs. “We are committed to keeping our communities safe by evaluating programs by their results and holding ourselves accountable to the community we serve.”
“The City can keep the public and young people safer by offering a graduated continuum of supervision, including residential programs for high-risk kids that include services designed to better prepare them for their inevitable re-entry into the community,” said the Mayor’s Chief Advisor for Policy and Strategic Planning John Feinblatt.
“Since we launched the Esperanza Program in 2003, more than 1,000 young people and their families have received intensive counseling in their homes, which ultimately strengthens both the families and the communities they live in,” said Probation Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi. “We know programs like this work, but until the State changes the absurd funding scheme that charges the City more even as we reduce the number of young people we place in their facilities, the supply will always fall far short of demand.”
“This reform will allow the City to build upon our Juvenile Justice Initiative, providing support to families and help to teenagers so that our neighborhoods will be safer places for everyone,” said Administration for Children’s Services Commissioner John B. Mattingly. “The Juvenile Justice Initiative represents one of the most significant juvenile justice service reforms in recent City history. Each year, we serve hundreds of young people and their families across all five boroughs of New York City. Now by developing resources for youth who cannot stay safely at home, the City will be providing the full spectrum of oversight and help for youth entering the juvenile justice system with the clear focus being on improved long-term results.”
Approximately 400 New York City youth are currently confined in State facilities. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently monitoring four facilities after an investigation found New York State violated the constitutional rights of youth at these facilities, used excessive force, had inadequate mental health services and inappropriately used restraints.
Last month, the City filed a lawsuit to prevent New York State from charging for wasteful and unnecessary costs the State incurs while running its juvenile justice system. Since 2000, the average daily population of New York City youth in State facilities has been reduced by two-thirds. Yet, the City paid the State nearly $62 million in Fiscal Year 2010, more money than it paid in 2000, because the rates charged to the City also include the State’s costs of maintaining and staffing empty facilities. For example, the State system currently supports 13 facilities (out of a total of 25) that are more than half empty (see attached).
New York State currently charges localities inflated and artificially-set rates for the costs of operating its system. The rates are set each year by calculating the costs for maintaining all of the facilities, regardless of whether or not they are in use and occupied. This calculation also includes all of the salaries and fringe benefits of staff, whether or not those staffers are needed and are providing services to youth, and even includes the staff assigned to facilities that have been shuttered but remain on the State’s budget. Each year, as the population declines, the rates go up to cover the increasing costs of the unused portions of the system, and the rates announced for 2010 are the steepest increases ever. For example, the Tryon Boys Residential Center is completely empty of young people, yet it still employs staff. State statute authorizes the State to charge localities for half of the cost of “care, maintenance and supervision” furnished to local youth. State regulation also mandates that the rate calculated for such care must be based upon “the services actually provided in the preceding calendar year” and must be approved by the New York State Division of the Budget. The rates announced for 2010, however, charge New York City for many impermissible costs – idle staff, empty beds and dormant facilities. As the City’s lawsuit asserts, such costs should not be included in the rates because they are not for services actually provided for the care, maintenance and supervision of New York City youth in State facilities. The lawsuit seeks to compel the Office of Children and Family Services to recalculate the rates in a manner that eliminates these improper charges.
“The City should not have to pay millions because of wasteful spending by the State’s juvenile justice system,” said Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo of the New York City Law Department. “The Office of Children and Family Services’ rates violate the law, and we should not pay for empty beds and idle workers. Moreover, the State abuses its discretion by charging the City for costs having nothing to do with providing actual services for the care, management and supervision of our youth.”