Staying Connected

Introduction

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.

Key Questions

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?

 

 

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