Keeping Justice-Involved Youth “Close to Home” in New York City
by Jeffrey A. Butts, Laura Negredo and Evan Elkin
Research & Evaluation Center
When justice-involved youth are supervised by local agencies and placed with locally operated programs rather than being sent away to state facilities, they are better able to maintain community ties. They stay connected with their families and they are more likely to remain in local schools. Policy reforms that localize the justice system are often called “realignment.” New York’s “Close to Home” (or C2H) initiative is a prominent example of youth justice realignment. Launched in 2012, it is the latest chapter in a decade-long commitment by New York State and New York City to improve the justice system for young offenders by investing in programs and interventions that allow youth to stay close to their homes and families.
With primary support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and additional funds from the Pinkerton Foundation, the Research & Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice reviewed the design and implementation of New York’s C2H initiative. Researchers collected data and other information about the reforms, interviewed many of the officials who designed and implemented them, and talked with staff from private provider agencies and advocacy organizations.
The study included at least one detailed interview with each of the following people (affiliations at the time of each interview):
Ronald Richter – ACS, Commissioner
John Mattingly – Annie E. Casey Foundation
Gladys Carrion – OCFS, Commissioner
Felipe Franco – OCFS, Deputy Commissioner
Ana Bermudez – DOP, Deputy Commissioner
Vinny Schiraldi – DOP, Commissioner
Mishi Faruquee – ACLU
Gabrielle Horowitz-Prisco – Correctional Association, Juvenile Justice Project
Jeremy Kohomban – Children’s Village, President and CEO
Nina Aledort – OCFS, Associate Commissioner
Tim Roche – OCFS, Associate Commissioner
Jacquelyn Greene – DCJS, Director of Juvenile Justice Policy and Counsel to the Governor’s Deputy Secretary for Public Safety
Gail Nayowith – St. Christopher Ottilie Family of Services, Executive Director
Sara Hemeter – ACS, Associate Commissioner
Michele Sviridoff – Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator
Renee Petrucelli – NYC Department of Education, Passages Academy
Timothy Lisante – NYC Department of Education, Superintendent of District 79
Laurence Busching – Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator
The policymakers, advocates and practitioners interviewed for this report provided the authors with valuable insights and information about the C2H initiative and the research team is very grateful for their participation and candor. Any opinions in the report other than those directly attributed to an interviewee are those of the authors alone.
A draft of this report was posted on the internet in May 2014 and discussed at the Spring Pinkerton Youth Justice Symposium at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. After the Symposium, readers of the draft report were invited to comment on the report and to suggest material that should be added. All comments were reviewed and incorporated into the text as appropriate.
State and local governments across the United States are implementing measures to reduce youth incarceration and invest more in programs that allow young people to stay connected to their homes and families. Policymakers have recognized that, by itself, incarceration is not an effective strategy for improving offender outcomes, reducing recidivism, and promoting public safety. Incarceration does not reduce and may actually increase the risk of reoffending— especially for young offenders who are sent far away from home and separated from their families for extended periods of time (Fabelo et al. 2015). Increasingly, public officials are reforming youth justice systems by relocating the bulk of their intervention resources at the local level. Many states are investing in community-based alternatives and some are closing down traditionally rural, state-operated youth correctional facilities.
In New York State during the 1990s and early 2000s, advocates and even some policymakers called for the State to redesign its youth justice system (e.g., Governor Paterson’s Task Force 2009). Lawmakers spent more than a decade implementing a set of policy reforms that promised to expand the use of community-based alternatives for young offenders. Everyone involved in these efforts shared a common goal — to create a system for justice-involved youth that would be less punitive, more rehabilitative, and more thoroughly grounded in research evidence and best practices.
In 2012, New York began a realignment effort known as Close to Home (or C2H). Two years later, many of the officials and practitioners involved C2H still described it as “promising” or “encouraging.” Few were ready to call it completely successful. Everyone interviewed for this study, however, supported the general goals of C2H and the strategies being pursued by City and State agencies. It was not clear how to judge the long-term success of the initiative, but Close to Home appeared to be a sound investment for New York State and New York City.
- The Close to Home initiative is widely perceived to be an effective reform strategy for youth justice in New York. After two years of implementation, the initiative retained strong support from State officials, City officials, youth justice practitioners, and advocates.
- The success of C2H cannot be assessed simply by tracking changes in placement numbers. The sharp decline in New York’s rate of residential placements after C2H may suggest to some that the initiative is an effective strategy, but the downward trend in placements began many years before C2H.
- Opinions still vary as to the fundamental purposes of C2H. Was it intended to reduce the overall use of residential placements, or was it an effort to localize the residential system and replace state placements with local placements?
- Some professionals involved in the design of C2H argue that it was never simply about geography (i.e. the location of placements). It was intended to establish a better and more cost-effective balance of resources across the full dispositional continuum, including the wider use of community-based, non-residential alternatives.
- For many officials, present day costs are not the most critical indicator of C2H’s success. They believe that C2H should eventually make the youth justice system more cost-effective by generating better youth outcomes and lowering crime rates.
- More than two years into the C2H initiative, New York City operates more (and perhaps better) placement facilities, but advocates worry that the full array of community alternatives remains under-utilized.
- Some advocates interviewed for this study are worried that if new C2H-funded placement facilities are of higher quality and produce better outcomes than the State’s now-closed facilities, New York City judges might be inspired to use placement more often than before.
- Other stakeholders fear that C2H may have even hindered the momentum that was building for keeping justice-involved youth safely in the community. Instead, the youth justice system in New York City may have become more preoccupied with expanding youth placements — albeit the locally-operated placements everyone prefers.
- Advocates ask a key question: “Was it ever reasonable to assume that the C2H initiative could build a high-quality placement system and simultaneously work to keep youth out of that system?”
- Nearly all stakeholders interviewed for this study agree that the planning and implementation of C2H was rushed, but they also agree that rushing was probably necessary. The C2H initiative would have likely “died on the vine” had it not moved so quickly.
- After nearly three years of experience, including a transition to a new Mayor and City administration, the Close to Home initiative appears to be established policy. All stakeholders are eager to maintain the effort, although criticisms and debates about particular strategies continue.
- It is too early to tell whether the changes introduced by C2H have truly reformed New York City’s justice system or improved public safety, but key youth justice trends in New York City are actually more positive than in other areas of New York State. On balance, Close to Home seems to be a solid investment.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, advocates and even some policymakers called for New York to redesign its youth justice system (e.g., Governor Paterson’s Task Force 2009). Beset by rising placement costs and poor youth outcomes, the youth justice system was built on policies and practices that institutionalized city youth in distant state facilities and disconnected them from their families.
The City and State spent more than a decade implementing a set of policy reforms that promised to integrate new approaches for young offenders. Everyone involved in these efforts shared a similar goal — to create a system for youth that would be less punitive, more rehabilitative, and more thoroughly grounded in research evidence about adolescent development and family well-being.
In 2012, the youth justice field watched closely as New York began an ambitious realignment effort: Close to Home (or C2H). The initiative was inspired by youth justice realignment efforts in other states (Butts and Evans 2011) and policymakers hoped that it would provide effective interventions for youth in their own communities. Close to Home shifted the custody of all but the most severe youthful offenders from New York State to New York City. It increased the number of youth receiving services in their home communities and it sustained the trend toward less frequent use of state-sponsored placements.
C2H was a multi-organizational effort. Agencies from both the State and City collaborated closely. State efforts were led by the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) and the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), while the leading City agencies were the Department of Probation (DOP) and Administration for Childrens’ Services (ACS). The driving assumption behind C2H was that keeping youth close to their families and communities would enable parents and guardians to be more involved in their child’s supervision and rehabilitation and to establish better relationships with educational and treatment supports. Youth could forge stronger connections with local resources during and after placement and the school credits they earned during placement could count towards their academic progress.
Close to Home was designed to unfold in two phases beginning with the lowest risk youth in the least restrictive settings. During Phase 1, the City created a residential system for the lowest risk youth — those typically held in the “non-secure” facilities operated by the State’s OCFS. From September 2012 to May 2013, City youth housed at these State facilities were transferred to new programs in New York City. After September 2012, as low-risk youth were newly adjudicated by family courts in the City, they were to be placed in the new locally-operated programs.
Phase 2 of C2H would add new placement facilities for youth in the next highest risk category—those held in the State’s “limited-secure” facilities. City youth already housed at State-sponsored limited-secure facilities would be transferred to the new local system and newly adjudicated limited-secure cases were to be placed directly in the new City-based system.
Phase 2 was originally projected to launch in early 2013. By the end of 2014, however, it was two years behind schedule and City officials announced that it would launch in March 2015. Some officials acknowledged that the original plan for the limited-secure phase of the initiative was probably never feasible. According to some City leaders, the initial plan for how and when to move forward with the limited-secure phase of the C2H initiative was always seen as tentative by those most involved in its design and implementation.
The 2014 change in New York City’s mayoral administration introduced many changes in city government. Some of the central players in the negotiation and design of C2H changed jobs, including some of the leaders from the very state agencies that helped to conceptualize C2H. Several key State agency leaders took new positions with the City. Most stakeholders interviewed for this report remained optimistic about the new appointments and the C2H initiative.
Beginning with the earliest conversations about C2H, the initiative was widely perceived as a promising reform, but how well would the new concepts and practices be implemented? How confident could the public be that this new approach to youth justice in New York would lead to better outcomes? Answers to these questions were only starting to emerge three years into the initiative.
Close to Home was obviously a complex initiative that involved the cooperation and coordination of a variety of government and community agencies. The goal of this report is to examine the initial phases of C2H implementation and to highlight varying points of view expressed by key stakeholders.
The report addresses questions such as:
- Who were the key individuals and agencies that made C2H happen?
- What issues affected the negotiation and planning phase?
- What issues affected implementation?
- Did C2H lead to significant reductions in out-of-home placements?
- Would C2H eventually save taxpayer dollars or was it simply replacing one expensive system with another?
- What lessons were learned during Phase 1 of C2H that could help State and City officials ensure the success of Phase 2?