Today's New York Times reports that the mayor's office plans to merge the city’s Department of Juvenile Justice into its child welfare agency. This signals a "more therapeutic approach toward delinquency" that will see fewer young offenders sent to prison. The integration of the agencies is effective immediately.
Under the new arrangement, young people in conflict with the law, and who are not considered dangerous, will have easier access to in-home programmes managed by the child welfare agency; this will allow them to remain in their families and communities, while following a strict set of rules. Young offenders who are considered a high risk to the public will continue to be sent to detention centres.
Young people between the ages of 11 and 16 are usually held in custody - in group homes or detention centres - while on remand. Under the new plan, city officials will more frequently recommend to the judge that a young person be allowed return home, on condition that the family engages with intensive visits by the Administration for Children's Services.
Since 2002, NY City has reduced placements in juvenile facilities by 56%. This has been brought about by an increase in the capacity for community-based programmes with family intervention and therapy. The administration has also developed a "more finely tuned process" to determine the level of risk young offenders pose to the public, which informs the decision on whether youths should return home or be detained.
Given that high numbers of children who commit crimes have also been previously in contact with child-welfare agencies (the article reports on studies that show nearly 20% of prisoners aged under 30 have spent time in foster care) this merging of the two agencies seems a logical move.
The focus on community-based treatment for juvenile offenders is an extension of the belief that children are better off with their families than in isolation from them.
Since 2007, the Juvenile Justice Initiative has piloted a number of programmes that send young offenders back to their families and provide intensive therapy; the agency has reported a reduction in recidivism rates for chronic juvenile delinquents by at least 30% following engagement with these programmes.
Recidivisim rates from juvenile prisons run at 75% of the young people arrested again within 3 years of release.
“Our goal is to improve the entire system so that we break that cycle, and improve public safety, and improve the lives of these young people who are moving down the wrong path.” - Linda I. Gibbs, Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services.