Serving Kids Instead of Kids Serving TimeAlthough improvements are being made, New York State’s juvenile justice system still needs work. Kids are sent to juvenile prisons upstate at taxpayer expense and all too often wind up back in jail. Last year, the City spent $80 million to send 400 youth ages 12 to 15 to detention facilities. With a serious fiscal crisis forcing deep cuts in City and State budgets, nothing short of dramatic change is necessary.
Both Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo have made fixing the system a priority, though they have disagreed on how to proceed. Both are focused on reducing deficits, which means closing some of the most expensive, dysfunctional, and unsafe upstate detention centers. But advocacy is needed to ensure that jails are replaced with effective alternatives, such as the Trust-funded QUEST ATD program at the Center for Court Innovation
—a program that works with parents, teachers, and therapists—and allows non-violent delinquent youth to stay at home and in school. Programs such as this cost less per youth, but getting them started across the State will take investment.
“We have worked to reform juvenile justice in the City on a number of fronts,” says Roderick Jenkins, program officer at The Trust. “We’ve assembled alliances that can reach across the partisan divide. We helped develop a fiscal plan to support alternatives to incarceration. Now, a $125,000
grant to the Juvenile Justice Advocacy and Action Project
and a $100,000
grant to Public Interest Projects
are funding advocacy and organizing to get the best reforms passed by the City and State.”
The Juvenile Justice Advocacy and Action Project (an alliance that includes the Correctional Association of New York, the Children’s Defense Fund-New York, and Fight Crime: Invest in Kids) is designing and advocating a reform agenda, testifying at legislative and budget hearings, and attending community meetings to ensure that reform proposals are discussed. The groups will also marshal their constituencies and members of the 400-agency Juvenile Justice Coalition to make their voices heard. Public Interest Projects will work with M+R Strategic Services and the Citizen’s Committee for Children to provide advocacy and media and communications support.
“We know that youth do not receive the type of support and treatment they need at these big detention facilities and fair better when they have more individualized help closer to home. We will urge State leaders to right-size the system, improve care for incarcerated youth and invest in alternatives,” says Susan Stamler, senior vice president at M+R. “It’s not just about closing unsafe facilities; it’s about what programs we put in their place.”