Anyone following juvenile justice issues in New York state cannot help but be struck by how much attention the field has received in recent months. Even as the media—from The New York Times
and New York Magazine
(image at right) to National Public Radio
—eagerly document the need for local reform, there seems to be a groundswell of people thinking about ways to treat children as children, at home in their communities rather than in locked facilities, without compromising public safety.
On the state level, for example, a statewide Governor’s Task Force, chaired by Jeremy Travis (and staffed by my colleagues at the Vera Institute of Justice), has issued a call for reform that the state’s top juvenile justice officer, Commissioner Gladys Carrión, is actively pursuing. The task force report
(seen at left), issued in December 2009, lays out a comprehensive roadmap for reducing juvenile corrections, reinvesting resources in community-based alternatives, eliminating racial inequities across the system, improving the supports and services provided to young people in state custody and upon release, and ensuring system accountability.
At almost the same time, New York City announced that it is merging
its Department of Juvenile Justice into its child welfare agency, the Administration for Children’s Services. Its stated rationale includes a commitment to reducing the reliance on detention for troubled youth. Meanwhile, Vincent Schiraldi—whose commitment to reforming juvenile justice is second to none—has come on as the city’s new probation commissioner.
As the director of the Center on Youth Justice
at the Vera Institute of Justice
, I have had the privilege and good fortune to have a front row seat to these changes. Vera has been partnering with dedicated and passionate state and local county officials to advance juvenile justice reform for years—from keeping alleged status offenders
(troubled, but non-delinquent, youth) out of the court system
to ensuring that those youth who have been charged with a crime are given opportunities to safely remain in their communities through cost-effective and successful alternative programs.
For anyone who shares a commitment to protecting public safety and seeing troubled kids treated fairly and humanely, these are exciting times in New York State. When we place fewer young people in institutional facilities and provide more appropriate services in their neighborhoods, everyone comes out ahead: children, families, communities, and taxpayers. It will be very interesting to see how this perfect storm of opportunity plays out.
Annie Salsich directs the Center on Youth Justice at the Vera Institute of Justice
. She first joined the Institute in 2003 as a program analyst for its direct service project Affirm. Over the last several years, Annie has provided technical assistance and support to numerous New York State counties, as well as national jurisdictions. She has specifically focused her work in three areas: (1) helping localities divert status offenders from court; (2) assisting jurisdictions to design and implement reforms that reduce reliance on pre-adjudication detention (jail), decrease local and state expenditures, and provide more substantively sound outcomes for young people and their families through community-based detention alternatives; and (3) provide strategic planning support to officials interested in improving their juvenile placement (or post-dispositional) systems by keeping youth at home and in their communities when public safety permits. Annie is co-author of Widening the Lens: A Panoramic View of Juvenile Justice in New York State
and its sequel, Widening the Lens 2008
, among other reports.
Related Post: Every year, thousands of youths end up in the juvenile justice system for skipping school or for being runaways--not because they've committed a crime. Check out this guide from the American Bar Association on how to represent these "status offenders."