New York is throwing fewer than half the children and teens in jail than it did a decade ago. The state was singled out by the National Juvenile Justice Network, which is trying to further reduce youth incarceration.
Gabrielle Horowitz-Prisco is Director of the Juvenile Justice Project here in New York. She says it’s still a problem…often on minor crimes.
“A lot of kids end up being locked up for things that remain relatively minor, like what we call in New York City jumping a turnstile or smoking marijuana, shoplifting. There’s been progress and change and we see less of that, but I’d also say even for kids that commit more serious crimes, the research is very strong that incarcerating children is a bad public policy.”
Horowitz-Prisco says the state has closed a number of facilities, reducing the tendency toward incarceration. She also notes it costs more than 260-thousand dollars a year to imprison a youth. Juvenile Justice Network Director Sarah Bryer suggests time behind bars removes the youth form the connections that can turn around a life – family, education and job opportunities.
“When they come out of the facilities now we have to work double-time to try to reestablish those connections back into a healthy relationship with their families when sometimes they haven’t even been able to have regular phone contact, let alone in-person contact with their families, to get them back into school, to get them jobs, to get them job training, to get them the services they need in the community.”
Bryer has strategies to keep kids from behind bars both before and after a trial.
“There’s increasing knowledge and proliferation of community-based alternatives that hold youth accountable in the context of their communities and families. The others are really restricting the use of detention, so thinking ‘what child really is a flight risk? And ‘can we hold these young people under community supervision and get them to their hearing and their trial?’”
A report: The Comeback and Coming-from-Behind States analyzes youth incarceration.
POLICY REFORMS TO REDUCE YOUTH INCARCERATION
- increasing the availability of evidence-based alternatives to confinement;
- requiring intake procedures that reduce the use of detention facilities;
- closing or downsizing youth confinement facilities;
- reducing schools’ over-reliance on the justice system to address discipline issues;
- disallowing incarceration for minor offenses; and
- restructuring juvenile justice responsibilities and finances among states and counties.
Between 2001 and 2011 New York reduced youth incarceration 53 percent. Horowitz-Prisco says the state is doing some of the things that have been shown to keep youth from detention centers, jails and prison.
“So some of the things that New York has done is invest in community-based alternatives, so kids stay at home with their families and receive intensive rehabilitative services. So they might have a social worker working with them and their family and their school. They may have support services that extend to their family as well as themselves, where there’s really an effort to look at what wasn’t working for this kid and how do we change their behavior.”
New York was named one of nine states that lead the nation in reducing youth incarceration and are adopting the suggested principles and policies.