Staying Connected

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.