Charting A New Course: A Blueprint for Transforming Juvenile Justice in New York State

A report prepared by New York Governor David Paterson’s Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice released in December 2009. It “shines a harsh light” on the problems in New York’s prisons for juvenile offenders
According to this Report, ” the problems are so acute that the state agency overseeing the prisons has asked New York’s family court judges not to send youths to any of them “unless they are a significant risk to public safety,” recommending instead alternatives like therapeutic foster care.”

This Report comes three months after a federal investifgation found that excessive force was routinely used at the four New York prisons, “resulting in injuries as severe as broken bones and shattered teeth.”

Although we are not authorized to include in this posting a draft copy we have seen of the Report, the following is an excerpt from the Executive Summary>

From the Executive Summary
New York State’s juvenile justice system has two primary responsibilities:to keep the public safe and to care for and rehabilitate young people. Since the 1980s, this system has relied on a punitive, corrections-based model to meet these responsibilities. On both counts this model has failed. The need for systemwide reform is urgent.

More than 1,600 youth enter the state’s institutional placement facilities each year, at an estimated annualized cost of $210,000 per child. Currently there is no standardized, statewide system in place for determining whether youth placed in state custody truly pose a risk to public safety. However, we do know that in 2007 the majority of these young people-53 percent-had a misdemeanor as their most serious adjudicated offense. This heavy reliance on incarceration is not protecting the public from juvenile crime.

The most recent reliable recidivism data-which, troublingly, is more than a decade old-ndicates that of all youth released from state custody between 1991 and 1995, 75 percent were re-arrested, 62 percent were reconvicted, and 45 percent were re-incarcerated within three years of their release. This punitive approach is also failing the young people it is meant to serve.

Youth are placed in facilities that are located hundreds of miles away from the support networks of their families and communities. These institutions are often sorely under-resourced, and some fail to keep their young people safe and secure, let alone meet their myriad service and treatment needs. In some facilities, youth are subjected to shocking violence and abuse.

A recent investigation of four New York State facilities by the U.S. Department of Justice found, for example, that staff consistently responded to minor incidents with excessive force, resulting in serious physical injuries to young people. It comes as no surprise, then, that not only do youth leave facilities without having received the support they need to become law-abiding citizens, but many are also more angry, fearful, or violent than they were when they entered.

By incarcerating thousands of children in facilities, the largest of which closely resemble adult prisons, New York State is harming its children, wasting money, and endangering its public. This cannot continue….

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