Staying Connected: Before the Reforms

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BEFORE THE REFORMS

Close to Home was part of a decade-long effort to correct budgetary incentives, improve services, and achieve positive outcomes for youth and families involved with New York’s justice system. The need for reform was apparent years before C2H. The costs of youth justice, for example, increased considerably through the 1990s and early 2000s. Total costs rose 24 percent in one five-year period, from $202 million in 2003 to $251 million in 2008 (New York City Independent Budget Office 2008), and this was during a time of falling crime rates, declining placements, and growing reliance on less-expensive community alternatives.

c2hpic4editSystem-wide costs remained high at least in part because State policies required OCFS to keep residential facilities open and fully staffed even as the number of youth requiring placement dropped along with the rate of serious youth crime. Placement costs per youth exploded as a result. Youth outcomes, however, were not improving. One OCFS analysis found that 66 percent of youth released from State placement facilities were re-arrested within two years (NYS OCFS 2011).

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Policymakers and practitioners were frustrated by the continued problems. By 2010, OCFS facilities were under review by federal investigators and New York City had filed a lawsuit contending that the State was overcharging for placement services. The State and City eventually agreed on a set of reforms, including downsizing of under-utilized facilities and some of the policy changes that would eventually become known as Close to Home. The State agreed to transfer most young offenders from New York City to local custody. Suddenly, New York City had gotten what it was asking for — the City’s youth would not be going upstate in large numbers following their adjudication as “juvenile delinquents” (JDs) or “juvenile offenders” (JOs). They would be staying closer to the City. Now what?

City Reforms

The reforms associated with C2H did not happen overnight. New York City’s juvenile detention and placement practices were under intense scrutiny long before 2012. In 2003, the New York City Department of Probation (DOP) launched “Project Zero,” an effort to reduce the City’s over-reliance on detention and out-of-home placement. The DOP increased the use of “adjustments” (or, diverting cases from the formal process) in order to expand the use of community-based services. Successful adjustments increased as a result. At one point, successful adjustments grew 12 percent in just two years (Division of Criminal Justice Services 2013).

box1In 2006, responding to skyrocketing detention costs and poor recidivism outcomes, City officials initiated a series of reforms designed to reduce over-reliance on detention and expand community alternatives. The efforts were twofold: 1) City agencies pledged to use more data in making case-specific detention decisions; and 2) the City administration promised to build a broader array of community-based alternatives.

The City also commissioned New York’s Vera Institute of Justice to assist in the development of a formal risk assessment instrument (RAI). The RAI provided added information for structured decision-making to clarify the risks of recidivism posed by individual youth and to ensure that pre-court detention was used only for high-risk youth.

Some advocates interviewed for this study expressed concern about the potential misuses of the RAI and the structured decision-making model. Once justice agencies become accustomed to viewing youth through the lens of risk scores, experts warn that decision-makers may lose sight of the epistemic origins of risk measures. Risk assessment scores are heavily weighted on a youth’s prior record of justice involvement (i.e. previous arrests, offenses, and adjudications). Thus, risk scores are at least partly, if not largely, composed of the previous decisions made by police, prosecutors, and judges. Measured risk is essentially a composite of how other justice officials have viewed a young offender in the past. To the extent that their views were tarnished by bias or hostility, this collective animus is inherently bound up in a youth’s current risk assessment score.

c2h2014box2Still, most officials agreed that the adoption of the RAI signaled a major paradigm shift in the City’s youth justice system. No longer would judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys be expected to rely on “gut instincts” or unfounded assumptions about the risks young people pose to public safety. City officials now had a common metric and standard vocabulary for discussing policy options and the factors thought to be predictive of risk and recidivism.

As the RAI was being developed and piloted, NYC officials also designed a wider continuum of “alternative to detention” (ATD) programs and the City solicited proposals for programs that would be consistent with the new regime of structured decision-making. In addition to improving the rational basis of detention utilization, the structured decision-making approach allowed the City to triage resources for low, medium, and high-risk youth across the full range of community-based services.

Before C2H, the DOP and ACS agreed to expand the availability of existing community-based “alternative to placement” (ATP) programs as well, which included the Vera Institute’s Esperanza program and ACS’ own Juvenile Justice Initiative (JJI). These programs served delinquent youth who may otherwise be placed out of their homes, including some at risk for secure settings. Esperanza was a comprehensive community program that provided family counseling, intensive supervision and resources to the juvenile justice population and their families. JJI employed an array of evidence based, family focused interventions that included multidimensional treatment foster care, functional family therapy, and multi-systemic therapy (ACS 2012).

In 2008, New York City implemented a Weekend/Holiday Arraignment Initiative. This initiative expanded the processing of juvenile cases from weekdays only to include weekends and holidays as well, thus reducing time in custody for defendants awaiting court processing. In 2010, the City also restructured the management of the detention system. The former Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) became part of the city’s child welfare agency, ACS. With the merger, ACS began to operate a full array of non-secure and secure detention facilities in the City (Cannon, Aborn and Bennet 2010).

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Together, these new approaches had begun to create a culture shift in New York City’s juvenile justice system well before the launch of C2H. Judges and prosecutors became accustomed to a more rehabilitative climate, had a broader array of options at their disposal and began to send more youth to community-based programs. As NYC youth justice practice came increasingly under the control of child welfare policy makers at ACS, and as the youth crime rate continued to fall across New York and the entire country, the population of youth in upstate placement facilities was shrinking rapidly. According to State officials and NYC practitioners, however, the youth who remained in placement represented a higher-risk cohort.

State Reforms

The C2H initiative was preceded by several critical developments at the State level as well. In particular, Gladys Carrión’s 2007 appointment as Commissioner of OCFS set in motion a series of reforms. Almost immediately upon assuming the leadership of OCFS, she began to press for down-sizing, or “right-sizing” the youth justice system, which meant drastically reducing the capacity of the upstate youth facilities that swelled during the youth crime scares of the 1980s and 1990s.

Carrión implemented several reforms to facilitate change. For example, OCFS began to address longstanding concerns about lengths of stay in its youth facilities. In 2007, the mean length of stay for youth in State-operated facilities was 11 months, while the mean length of stay for youth placed with private agencies was 13 months (NYS OCFS 2009). The agency sought to reduce lengths of stay by contracting with New York City’s Children’s Aid Society and others to provide aftercare supports for youth returning from State-run facilities and by establishing an Intensive Aftercare Program (IAP) for youth released from private facilities. With more aftercare options, OCFS was able to shorten the mean length of stay for youth in State-operated facilities to 9 months; private agency stays fell to 11 months on average (NYS OCFS 2009).

The IAP program included electronic monitoring, day placement programs, evening reporting centers, and evidence-informed community therapy programs like Adolescent Portable Therapy (APT) and Multi-systemic Therapy (MST). OCFS collaborated with ACS to create the JJI Intensive Preventive Aftercare Services (IPAS), a Functional Family Therapy-based program that provided aftercare services for youth and their families. Facility populations began to fall dramatically, partly due to these reforms but aided by the steep drop in youth crime that occurred in New York and the nation as a whole after the 1990s.

These reforms were not welcomed by everyone. Some officials interviewed for this study acknowledged that New York’s private residential providers were becoming concerned at this time about the trend toward less residential utilization. The survival of private agencies obviously depends on a steady flow of clients. According to several observers, the State’s larger private agencies began to lobby the courts to send an increasing proportion of placement-bound youth to them. If this is true, the effort appeared to succeed. By 2011, 921 juvenile delinquents were placed in private agency settings statewide while only 268 were placed in public facilities, reversing a long-standing pattern from earlier years (NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services 2012).

The shift toward private placements was an eye-opener for City and State officials, both in terms of program quality and fiscal policy. Youth placed with private agencies were in State (OCFS) custody, but local governments were expected to pay 100 percent of the bill for private placements, compared with a 50-50 split for placements in State-operated facilities. In other words, just as the State was working to shorten its residential lengths of stay and to improve the quality of aftercare services, private placement agencies — where shorter lengths of stay and extended aftercare were essentially bad for business — began to capture a larger share of the declining number of placements. In New York City, the statewide shift from OCFS-operated facilities to private placements billed at 100 percent increased the urgency for reforming the placement system. Some officials involved in C2H described this development as the “final straw” that forced the City to act.

State officials also saw a need for action. Under the leadership of Commissioner Carrión, a broad State-level reform agenda had already begun to take hold. OCFS was working to enhance the role of families and communities in the rehabilitation of the youth throughout the services spectrum. New staff training initiatives were bringing agency practices in line with the best, evidence-informed principles, particularly around positive youth development approaches and services for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth (ACS 2013a).

Other precursors to C2H included the Brooklyn for Brooklyn initiative (or, B4B), a pilot program designed to work with young offenders closer to their families and to improve the overall quality of services for City youth. The B4B initiative promoted a therapeutic, community-based model focused on positive youth development (Vera Institute of Justice 2013). A number of people interviewed for this study saw B4B as a working laboratory for C2H. State officials continued their support for B4B until 2013, when the State sold the residential facility to the City so it could become part of the C2H initiative. The early success of B4B and the obvious need for such a model may have helped to inspire the development of C2H.

A SYSTEM IN TURMOIL

City and State reforms were yielding positive and encouraging results even before the launch of Close to Home — aided by the national decline in youth crime. Rates of serious youth crime today are half what they were in the mid-1990s (Butts and Evans 2014). There were many competing explanations. Youth growing up in the 1980s and 90s may have begun to reject the lifestyle they came to associate with drug use and criminal activity as they observed older siblings and friends getting arrested. The declining size of the youth population may have contributed to the reduction, or perhaps the many changes associated with digital communications and social media led youth to pursue fewer illegal activities. One always-popular explanation is that growth in the use of incarceration after 1980 increased the deterrent effect of the justice system overall. Most careful research, however, suggests that rising incarceration alone explains only a small portion of the crime decline.

Regardless of the causes, however, the falling rate of serious youth crime was associated with a declining demand for placements. The number of New York City youth coming into the justice system dropped sharply in the years leading up to C2H. Between 2006 and 2012, juvenile arrests for major felonies in New York City dipped 27 percent (ACS 2013a) and the average daily population in detention dropped 29 percent (City of New York 2010; 2012). From 2006 to 2011, the number of youth placed in OCFS custody statewide plummeted 47 percent (Division of Criminal Justice Services 2012). New York City placements dropped by two-thirds from 2005 to 2012, beginning seven years before the launch of the C2H initiative (ACS 2013a).

These trends encouraged the dramatic changes at OCFS. Within a year of being appointed OCFS Commissioner, Gladys Carrión shifted resources away from the State’s residential facilities and into community alternatives. From October 2007 to September 2013, the State closed 23 youth facilities and reduced capacity in others. Overall, OCFS reduced its residential capacity by more than 1,000 beds.

Yet, problems continued to plague the youth justice system. In 2007, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into conditions in several of the State’s residential facilities for young offenders. The findings of the investigation were delivered to the Governor’s office in August 2009. The DOJ charged that treatment services for youth in State-run facilities were inadequate and that conditions were often abusive.

According to the DOJ findings letter (2009: p. 5) sent to the Governor, the federal investigation found that:

1) staff resort quickly to a high degree of force that is disproportionate to the level of the youth’s infraction; and 2) the technique employed to restrain a youth results in an excessive number of injuries. We also found that investigations into uses of force and restraints were inadequate and that, in many instances, OCFS failed to hold staff accountable for gross violations of OCFS policy on the use of force and restraints.

According to DOJ,

[The] staff at the facilities routinely used uncontrolled, unsafe applications of force, departing both from generally accepted standards and OCFS policy. Anything from sneaking an extra cookie to initiating a fist fight may result in a full prone restraint with handcuffs. This one-size-fits-all control approach has not surprisingly led to an alarming number of serious injuries to youth, including concussions, broken or knocked-out teeth, and spiral fractures.

After the release of the DOJ report, Commissioner Carrión met with New York’s family court judges and recommended that they refrain from sending any more youths to OCFS unless the youth posed significant risks to public safety. In October 2009, court administrators sent a similar memorandum to judges encouraging them to refer youth to community resources instead of sending them to placement (Storey 2010).

Meanwhile, then-Governor David Paterson launched the Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice. The task force released its report in December 2009. The report recommended further drastic decreases in the use of residential placements for youth, as well as the creation of a comprehensive menu of alternatives to placement and stronger reentry programs.

The State also faced civil litigation. In December 2009, the non-profit Legal Aid Society filed a class action suit against OCFS. The suit alleged ongoing civil rights violations and argued that OCFS facilities deprived youth of essential mental health services and that staff used unconstitutional and excessive force to control youth (Storey 2010). The lawsuit was eventually settled with OCFS consenting to significant policy changes. More than a dozen individual plaintiffs received substantial settlements and the lawyers who brought the case claimed $1 million in fees.

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Governor Andrew Cuomo touring New York’s Tryon Residential Center in 2010. New York Daily News. December 21, 2012.

The pressures continued to mount. In 2010, newly elected Governor Andrew Cuomo visited OCFS’s Tryon Residential Center, a limited secure facility that OCFS had scheduled for closure. The Governor saw a fully staffed but empty campus, as OCFS was legislatively required to continue staffing the facility during the closure process. The visit was covered heavily by statewide media and became a symbol of fiscal waste and negligence in the State system. The following year, the State agreed to a $3.5 million settlement in a five-year-old lawsuit centering on the negligent death of a 15-year-old at Tryon.

Meanwhile, the number of City youth placed with OCFS dropped 62 percent between 2002 and 2011, causing daily costs per youth to swell 150 percent (Bermudez and Ferrante 2012). With the public increasingly aware of the staggering price tag associated with the State’s faltering system of residential facilities, New York City officials were emboldened to act. The logical next step was for the City to assume full responsibility for its own youth and to keep them out of expensive facilities located hours away from their homes and families.

In January 2011, Laurence Busching, then Executive Commissioner of the Division of Youth and Family Justice at ACS, and Vincent Schiraldi, then Commissioner of DOP testified before the New York City Council on the need for City officials to act. They pointed out that under the existing policy structure, New York City paid $17 million more in 2010 than it did in 2002 for its share of an increasingly unnecessary State custody system. The financial drain would only worsen and render the City unable to invest in creating a new and much-needed system to serve its own youth.

Youth advocacy groups were another critical part of the story. Groups like the Correctional Association of New York warned that current practices disconnected youth from their families and returned them to their home communities worse than they were before placement. The advocates placed special emphasis on the harm of educational disruptions during placement. While youth always had the opportunity to earn credits during placement, the credits did not always count toward their academic progress when they came home, causing at-risk and disconnected youth to fall behind or to withdraw entirely from school (Bloomberg 2012).

In short, an array of factors combined to create the perfect conditions for reform. The State faced serious fiscal, administrative, and legal pressures. Upstate secure facilities were seen to be a waste of resources that sometimes caused serious harm to young people. The juvenile defense bar and youth advocacy community were making frequent calls for fundamental reform. Meanwhile, the national youth crime decline was lowering the temperature on all crime policy debates.

The City had been tinkering with procedural and structural reforms for more than a decade. By 2012 it seemed that lawmakers might be able to do the right thing. In this case, the right thing was to dismantle a system that relied on expensive facilities in upstate New York and to create a locally operated system with better access to alternative programs and — in cases where youth did have to be removed from their homes — placements that were closer to their families and neighborhoods in New York City.

NEGOTIATING REFORM

Practitioners strongly supported the principles behind Close to Home, but a number of obstacles complicated efforts to build broader support among State and City officials. Youth justice had become less of a priority for elected officials after the violent crime scares of the 1990s subsided. Political issues associated with youth crime seemed less urgent. Young people also made up a relatively small portion of the overall justice system. Whatever political energy remained to deal with ongoing problems of crime and violence tended to focus on adults, which in New York State included all offenders age 16 and older. In addition, the economic problems that began with the recession of 2008-2009 continued to affect all forms of government. Officials in 2012 viewed dramatic policy changes more skeptically than they may have before 2008.

A systematic reform effort of the magnitude of C2H required significant political support from multiple parties and constituencies, and it was sometimes difficult to identify the right champions for change. Designing and implementing any change process can be arduous. The planning process for Close to Home was no exception. City and State agencies had to collaborate to design an entirely new residential system for New York City’s juvenile delinquents. The effort to resolve conflicts of interest and to sort out the differing perspectives of various groups was expected to take many months. In the end, even those closely involved in the planning for C2H were surprised at just how complicated it became.

Two years after the launch of C2H, the key players still did not agree entirely about the factors that led City and State leaders to pursue the reforms. State officials credited OCFS with changing the mindset of lawmakers about youth justice because the agency shifted from a correctional model to a developmental approach and expanded the focus on positive outcomes. The State closed more than 1,000 beds after 2007 and worked hard to free up the resources that would allow community programs to serve more youth. Brooklyn for Brooklyn (or B4B) was one of the best examples: OCFS developed the B4B initiative to keep youth placed in the community, closer to their families. These transformational efforts influenced general discourse and created the impetus for change that was needed to make C2H a reality.

OCFS officials believed they contributed to New York’s receptiveness to C2H by openly addressing the challenges the new system would likely face as it tried to keep youth closer to their families. The agency also used language supportive of the initiative long before the initiative itself. Some officials pointed out that the phrase, “close to home,” was already part of a media campaign sponsored by the State to ease the closure of facilities outside of New York City. Some materials in that campaign asserted that correctional space in Upstate New York was no longer needed because OCFS wanted to keep youth “closer to home.” Similar ideas were expressed in the report of Governor Paterson’s Task Force in 2009.

City leaders, however, pointed out that some State officials actually opposed C2H in its earliest phases because legislators in Albany didn’t want State voters to see youth justice reform as a City initiative. Practitioners in the City often attributed the origins of C2H to practices developed by ACS workers who were trying to improve their services for teenagers caught in the child welfare and juvenile delinquency systems. They pointed to the similarities of C2H to systemic reforms undertaken by ACS in the early 2000s to integrate the child welfare and youth justice systems.

The City’s Department of Probation would point out that its staff had been working to establish more community alternatives long before the emergence of C2H. The DOP had created an array of Alternatives to Placement (ATP) programs to provide youth with community services and to limit the use of residential programs. Even some State officials acknowledged that C2H was consistent with reforms already being pursued by DOP.

Valid arguments are found on all sides. For many officials, it is not even important to assign the credit for Close to Home. Most officials interviewed for this study agreed that three key forces drove the implementation of Close to Home:

1) declining rates of serious youth crime in the City, the State, and the entire country;

2) ongoing fiscal pressures remaining from the 2008-2009 recession; and

3) a sincere desire among all officials to develop better programs to serve youth effectively and to reduce recidivism.

State and City leaders were equally determined to abandon the old punitive model and to invest in a more rehabilitative and community-centered approach.

Early Moves

In October 2010, City Commissioners Vincent Schiraldi (DOP) and John Mattingly (ACS) assembled an inter-agency group called the Dispositional Reform Steering Committee, subsequently known as the NYC Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee (JJAC). The JJAC included representatives from youth-related agencies as well as members of the advocacy community. The Commissioners asked the group to consider any and all strategies for reforming the NYC youth justice system.

Based on these discussions, Schiraldi and then ACS Deputy Commissioner Laurence Busching presented an ambitious C2H reform proposal to State officials. Governor Paterson’s Administration did not support the proposal at first, although State officials agreed on the need for a new approach for NYC youth. Commissioner Carrión (then at OCFS) worried the bill was put together very quickly and that a comprehensive plan required more time. In addition, some leading advocacy groups, including the Children’s Defense Fund, the Correctional Association, and Community Connections for Youth in the Bronx, did not support the bill at first. Some insiders suspected that the advocacy community was hesitant to back a proposal coming from the same City administration then supporting controversial policies such as stop-and-frisk and the closing of public schools in poor neighborhoods.

Resistance to the idea of C2H began to subside with the November 2010 election of Governor Andrew Cuomo and his selection of Elizabeth Glazer to be Deputy Secretary for Public Safety (the top public safety position in New York State government). Glazer had been chair of the State’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Group under Governor Paterson. Her presence, combined with the essential support of John Feinblatt, Mayor Bloomberg’s Chief Advisor on criminal justice issues, helped to inspire the emerging consensus between City and State officials. Officials interviewed for this study also frequently noted the efforts of Tamara Steckler from Legal Aid in New York City as a key factor in facilitating productive conversations between the City and the State during the early phases of C2H.

Negotiations between the State and the City began in earnest approximately one year after the earliest conversations about C2H. Elizabeth Glazer represented State leadership and then-Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs took the leading role for the City. Many of the details surrounding the initiative were managed by Jacquelyn Greene, Counsel to the Governor’s Deputy Secretary for Public Safety and a senior staff member at New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). Several officials from OCFS, including Executive Deputy Commissioner William Gettman and a few staff members from the Division of Budget also played key roles. The City team included representatives from ACS, DOP, and the Criminal Justice Coordinator’s Office (later renamed the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice). Judge Ronald Richter joined the negotiations after Mayor Bloomberg named him as the Commissioner of ACS in September 2011.

Everyone involved in designing the C2H process knew that the fist in implementing the strategy would be transitioning youth already in custody from State to City responsibility. A significant number of agencies would have to collaborate to make transfers happen, including the courts, Probation, ACS, OCFS and the Department of Education.

Some officials argued, quite logically, that instead of transferring youths from State to City facilities, it would be more convenient to allow youth already in placement to remain until their release, and then to build out the new City-based system more slowly, as judges ordered newly adjudicated youth to City placements. Budget conscious officials, however, pointed out that this would mean running two systems concurrently for months or even years. The costs involved in a dual system approach would be onerous — especially with State placement costs already rising rapidly. City and State officials eventually agreed that it would be impossible to finance both the old and new systems at the same time.

Once the negotiation team agreed to transfer already-placed youth to the City’s custody, the timing of transfers became a key discussion point. State leaders proposed a transition period of at least seven or eight months, as they believed the City would need time to create new structures for handling a large influx of youth. Neither ACS nor its contracted providers had much experience running programs for delinquent youth. City officials, however, pushed for a transition period of just four months because of budget concerns. Ultimately, the four-month timeline was adopted.

Some advocates argued that a longer timeframe would allow the City to create a better, more comprehensive system of services and supports. When advocates raised these concerns, however, City officials resisted. They argued that having an extended dialogue might prevent C2H from happening altogether. Several State officials concurred, telling researchers after the fact that if the initiative had been slowed down to allow for a more deliberate process, it was likely that State leaders would have balked at the scope of the reforms.

Agency officials also debated the levels of residential care that should be included in C2H reforms. State and City officials agreed that the State should continue to manage the most serious offenders — i.e. youth placed in the OCFS-designated level, “secure placement.” They were never considered for transfer. Officials debated, however, whether to include both of the next two categories: “non-secure” and “limited-secure” placements. Eventually, the negotiation team decided to include both levels. Youth in non-secure placements would be transferred to City programs first. One year later, according to the original plan, youth in limited-secure residential placements would be moved to City facilities. Nobody at the time predicted that it would actually take more than two years to change placement practices for the limited-secure population.

Some officials involved in the negotiations for C2H remained concerned about how family court judges in New York City would react. When the reforms were launched, what would happen if judges did not trust the new approach? If courts no longer had ready access the State’s non-secure placements, would judges begin to send even more youth to limited-secure facilities? Would they try to use City detention beds as a placement resource? Everyone worried about unintended consequences.

It’s Always Partly About the Money

Funding was a constant concern. The C2H initiative posed financial risks for both the City and the State. Officials from State agencies worried that most economic resources for youth placements were being shifted to the City. What if, at some future time a larger number of youth were sent for placement at the most secure level? Would the State have enough resources to manage the entire population? City officials were equally concerned. What if the shift of resources from the State did not generate enough funding to create a truly effective residential system for City youth? Were they taking on too much?

The State wanted to fund City operations with a C2H block grant that would cover half of all placement costs. State agencies calculated the total costs for an intensive system of care for every City youth projected to require services, including drug and alcohol treatments, mental health care and educational supports. City leaders worried about the State’s block grant approach. What if the amount of the block grant remained flat and did not provide additional funds if and when demand for placement resources increased? State officials believed that a block grant approach was better than an open-ended funding stream that could create incentives for placement.

Linda Gibbs and Elizabeth Glazer were instrumental in making the numbers work for both parties. Eventually, both sides agreed to include a caveat in the legislation that provided for adjustment of the block grant formula if future changes in the legitimate demand for placement resources exceeded supply. The compromise involved using probation intake numbers to calculate changes in C2H allocations.

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