More than two years after the launch of Close to Home, the obvious question is, “did it work?” The evidence is clear that the initiative was effective in changing the youth justice system in New York City. When the outcomes of the C2H initiative are judged by placement patterns, the available data show that placement trends changed and they changed as intended.
In December 2011, the year before the launch, 544 juvenile delinquents from New York City were in some form of out-of-home placement due to law violations. Of these, 204 were in private residential facilities and 340 were in State-run facilities, including 123 in secure placements, 130 in limited-secure placements, and 87 in non-secure placements.
Of course, the number of placements from New York City was falling. The overall volume of delinquency placements declined after the launch of C2H and for the next two years. Overall, placements dropped to 494 in 2012 and 428 in 2013. By April 2014 the total number of New York City juveniles in placement was 415.
The decline in placements cannot be attributed to the C2H initiative because the trend existed before C2H and did not accelerate appreciably under C2H. The change in the configuration of placements, on the other hand, may be attributed to C2H. The number of youth in State-run non-secure facilities plummeted as intended, from 87 placed youth in 2011 to 9 youth in 2014.
As the City assumed responsibility for non-secure placements, those low-risk youth were no longer placed in State facilities. Instead they were placed with City programs administered by the Administration for Children’s Services. The ACS non-secure programs were serving 157 youth by December of 2012 and more than 200 youth at a time for the next two years.
Before the launch of C2H, advocates had worried that restricting New York City’s access to State-operated non-secure facilities would cause more youth to be reclassified as limited secure and this would lead to an expansion of those placements. This apparently did not happen. The number of New York City youth placed in the State’s limited-secure facilities continued to fall after C2H. In 2014, there were just 65 New York City youth in limited-secure placements — half the number in those placements in 2011.
Some other dire predictions about Close to Home also failed to come true. There were concerns among youth advocates, and even some officials within the youth justice system, that the expansion of programs and placements at the City level would lead to an overall expansion of the system. As police and courts learned about the greater resources available at the local level, so goes the argument, the perceived negative consequences of taking action against a youth would be lessened. Since there would be less of a chance that a particular youth would end up hundreds of miles away in a State-operated juvenile facility, the decision to arrest and to charge would be easier to make.
However, this did not happen. According to data disseminated by New York State’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, juvenile arrests (JD and JO) in New York City actually dropped more after C2H compared with the rest of the state. In the years just before C2H, arrests were declining in the City and State, but the relative decline was smaller in New York City (–4% between 2009 and 2011 in New York City versus –18% in the rest of the State). After the beginning of Close to Home, the situation was reversed. Arrests in New York City fell more (–39%) than in other areas of the State (–24%).
A different pattern was evident in the number of delinquency petitions filed in family courts across New York, but there was still no evidence that C2H increased the volume of court petitions. Before the implementation of C2H, the number of delinquency petitions in New York City courts declined somewhat more than did petitions outside of the City (–22% versus –17% between 2009 and 2011). After C2H began in 2012, the gap closed. The number of delinquency petitions fell 19 percent in both City courts and courts in other areas of the State.
The reversal pattern seen in arrests was also apparent in the number of intakes to probation departments before and after Close to Home. Juvenile delinquency probation intakes actually declined more in New York City than the rest of the state after the implementation of Close to Home. In the two years just before C2H, intakes dropped –2 percent in New York City, but fell –18 percent in the rest of the State. After the beginning of Close to Home, the decrease in intakes by New York City probation (—41%) was three times the size of other New York communities (–12%).
Another unintended consequence that did not occur was the potential shift toward using detention beds. Restricting out-of-home placements could have led to greater demand for detention bed space in the City. In principle, detention space is for pre-adjudicatory and pre-dispositional confinement of high-risk youth. In other words, detention beds and out-of-home placement slots are not supposed to be inter-changeable. When a court system cannot access placements in sufficient numbers, however, judges could have started to draw upon available detention beds as a form of substitute placement.
In fact, however, the launch of C2H was associated with an even larger decline in detention in New York City. Before C2H, the number of juvenile detention admissions in New York City declined at a pace that was slightly greater than the rest of New York State. Between 2009 and 2011, detention admissions in New York City fell –17 percent while admissions in other areas of New York State dipped –15 percent. After C2H, admissions in New York City decreased even more relative to the rest of the state (–30% versus –21%).
The same pattern was seen in average daily detention population. Before C2H, the detention population in New York City fell slightly more than the rest of the state (–21% compared with –20%). After the launch of C2H, the decline in the City’s detention populations outpaced that of the rest of the state (–22% versus –15%).
The available data suggest that New York’s Close to Home initiative succeeded in nearly eliminating placements of New York City youth in State non-secure facilities within the first year. The initiative also expanded the use of alternative placements and non-residential programs for youth who may have otherwise been placed in State facilities. Critics of the Close to Home reform once warned that making these changes could widen the net of justice intervention and even increase the use of placement and detention space at the local level, but these predictions did not materialize. It will take several more years before additional research will be able to assess whether Close to Home protected the public safety and accomplished other important goals related to treatment and behavior change among young offenders. In the first two years of the initiative, however, the effort was implemented as promised and it succeeded in meeting its stated goals without unanticipated negative consequences.
All of the officials and practitioners interviewed for this study believed the Close to Home initiative improved the youth justice system in New York. Most interviewees believed that Phase 2 would go even further and perhaps create a truly rehabilitative approach to youth justice. In everyone’s opinion, New York was moving in the right direction.
The first phase of Close to Home clearly helped those youth who were once held in the State’s remote, non-secure facilities. Beginning in 2012, those youth were being served in community-based programs closer to their own neighborhoods. Even those who were still in residential placements had more opportunities for family visits and they were able to maintain positive connections to their communities.
Close to Home also improved educational supports for justice-involved youth. School officials in New York City reported that the youth affected by C2H were taking and passing their Regents Exams at higher rates than before, and they were more often returning to their neighborhood schools following placement. According to one official: “they don’t leave the NYC [school] system when they get placed now, and this continuity is critical to helping them succeed when they get home.”
The stronger emphasis on contract oversight under Close to Home was also an improvement over the pre-C2H era. Providers told researchers that both ACS and OCFS played an active oversight role during the first phase of the C2H initiative. ACS and OCFS staff members were visiting facilities more often and were more familiar with program staff and clients.
As the City and State move into Phase 2 of C2H in 2015, a couple of key questions should be asked. Namely, what strategies were effective in advancing the C2H agenda, and what mistakes should be avoided? Several answers emerged during interviews for this report:
- Providers need time to prepare for new clients and new caseloads. The planning process needs to allow for reasonable start-up time, and the City and State should collaborate to support the costs of contractors during the start-up phase.
- More effort should be made to minimize the number of youth who are transferred from one setting to another in the midst of a residential stay. New placement facilities should grow with new admissions rather than transferring youth from old facilities.
- Building high-quality programs and placements is essential, but it is also important to build in controls over access to those programs and placements. Net-widening is an ever-present risk.
- The C2H initiative benefitted from the effective division of labor between City and State officials — i.e. the City assumed primary responsibility for managing and contracting for programs while the State provided oversight and regulatory review.
- Residential work in the youth justice system is difficult and challenging. Youth justice systems must recruit staff carefully and provide employees with ongoing training and professional development to ensure quality of care and to minimize turnover.
- While youth justice agencies should rely on evidence-based or evidence-informed service models whenever possible, such models do not exist for every youth and family factor that leads to crime and delinquency. Youth justice systems should include other interventions suggested by adolescent development science and preventive principles (e.g., job supports, educational mentoring, participation in the arts, sports and physical activity, and an array of other skill-based interventions).
As a reform strategy, Close to Home is not yet complete. During interviews for this study, agency officials from both the City and the State agreed with advocates that more investments were needed in community-based, non-residential alternatives. They also agreed that placement decisions would require ongoing scrutiny — even after the launch of Phase 2.
The officials most involved in C2H were clear that recent reforms were not simply about moving placements and programs from one agency to another. Transferring placements from OCFS to ACS would accomplish nothing unless the quality of youth justice improved. As Commissioner Gladys Carrión stated in 2014: “Either one of us [ACS or OCFS] is quite capable of running a really poor system. It’s not about who runs it.”
Close to Home was also not a privatization initiative. If the principal outcome of C2H was simply that private agencies began to play a larger role in youth justice, the initiative should not be considered a success.
Finally, while the officials interviewed for this study sometimes differed about the importance of budgetary concerns in the long-term, none believed the success of C2H should be judged simply in terms of short-term costs. In their view, the goal of Close to Home was to build a more effective youth justice system that provides high-quality services for youth and families in order to ensure safer communities.
Perhaps in a few years, as more outcome data become available, New Yorkers will learn that the Close to Home initiative brought real and lasting benefits to justice-involved and their communities. As of now, however, while nobody is ready to call the initiative a complete success, the general consensus is that Close to Home is a promising reform that has already improved the quality of youth justice in New York City and New York State.