City to Take Custody of Local Juveniles from Upstate Facilities

New York City will soon take responsibility for its youthful offenders instead of shipping them to facilities upstate, an option that has been viewed as ineffective and costly.  The change is something child advocates and city officials have been pushing for for years.

Approximately 400 youth serving sentences in non-secure and limited secure facilities will gradually be transferred to New York City starting in September of this year as part of the initiative that’s being called “Close to Home.”

Michael Jacobson from the Vera Institute of Justice said his organization had been working with the city on planning for this change. Jacobson said assessing youth when they first enter the system will be crucial to making sure there are better outcomes for juveniles.

“You don’t want to continue to do the same things. You want to do very targeted work,” Jacobson said. “Whether it’s a mental health issue, a drug treatment issue or simply bumping up their literacy…you want to find the things that landed them their in the first place and deal with it”. 

The Administration for Children’s Services is the agency responsible for overseeing the changes. The agency said the city is looking for 300 beds in non-secure facilities and expects to have a second call for beds for the juveniles in the spring of 2013. ACS said it would also be receiving $41 million a year from the state for funding the juvenile justice system. ACS spokesman Michael Fagan said the goal of bringing the kids back was to make sure youth stay connected to their families, to New York City schools and to their communities.

While child advocates are pleased about the change, details are still scarce, sparking some concern.  In a written statement Gabrielle Prisco of the Correctional Association said in part, “We look forward to the release of the New York City’s plan for this new system and very much hope that it includes strong transparency measures, robust oversight mechanisms…and the reinvestment of future cost savings in the kinds of community-based programs that keep kids out of the system in the first place.”

According to the Mayor’s office, the change is expected to save the city $20 million.