Moving Beyond Youth Prisons: Lessons from New York City’s Implementation of Close to Home

Weissman, Marsha; Ananthakrishnan, Vidhya; Schiraldi, Vincent N.

In the mid-1990s, New York’s youth prison system reflected the dominant paradigm across the country – a heavy reliance on incarceration for young people caught up in the juvenile justice system. During this time, roughly 3,800 youth convicted of crimes annually were sent to large facilities, operated either by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) or by private providers contracted by OCFS. These facilities were largely located in upstate New York, far from youths’ homes and communities, particularly for youth from New York City (Sickmund et al. 2017; New York State (NYS) Office of the State Comptroller 2001). Upon returning home from these placements, youth often felt disconnected, resulting in poor outcomes. A 2009 study indicated that by age 28, 71 percent of boys released from New York State’s juvenile placement system spent some time in an adult jail or prison (Coleman, Do Han Kim & Therese 2009).

Fast forward twenty years, and things in New York looked dramatically different. By 2016, New York City no longer sent any youth from its Family Court to state-operated youth prisons. Today, only around 100 New York City youth are placed from Family Court into any kind of residential facility, about a dozen of whom are in a locked facility. Not only are there dramatically fewer youth in residential placements, but those who do get placed now go to smaller, more home-like settings that attend to public safety without mirroring the punitive, correctional approaches embodied by previous youth prisons.

This case study outlines what happened in the intervening years to achieve these remarkable results. By sharing New York City’s story, we offer a roadmap for other jurisdictions looking to realign their juvenile justice systems, adapting the lessons learned about what worked and what did not to meet their specific circumstances.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Justice Lab
Social Work
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy
Justice Lab at Columbia University
Published Here
March 11, 2019