In response to multiple trends and pressures in public policy, Mayor Bloomberg announced this week as part of his State of the City speech the immediate merging of the Department of Juvenile Justice of New York City with the Administration for Children’s Services, in an effort to reshape the way juvenile offenders are handled by the system. The shift marks a new philosophy in combating youth delinquency, one that focuses more on improving education and home life circumstances than on punitive retribution and passing troubled young offenders through the system.
The plan was launched in response to increased pressure for alternative forms of treatment for juveniles who have committed non-violent crimes, as well as the weight of multiple studies that have documented the failure of juvenile detention centers to reduce recidivism or perform their function to any cost-effective degree. The approximately 900 juveniles currently being held in detention centers cost the taxpayers an average of $215,000 per child per year. The new system will opt instead to send the offenders home or into foster care, released only on the conditions that they maintain a curfew, perform better in school, and stay out of further trouble. The system being replaced was recently harshly criticized by a task force led by Jeremy Travis of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice for failing to meet its stated goals and contributing to increased levels of delinquency and violence.
Deputy Mayor of health and human service Linda I. Gibbs supported the plan and refuted claims that it was a turn to a softer approach on crime. She claimed that the new approach could not be worse than the existing one, in which a full three-quarters of offenders released from detention centers find themselves there again within three years. By taking the kids out of the hard system, she and the mayor claim, the city will not only be removing them from documented patterns of physical and sexual abuse, but also from bad influences that convert many of them from merely mischievous to thoroughly violent, while saving the city substantial amounts of money otherwise going into a broken and ineffective system. Moreover, the cost-cutting measures come at a crucial time when Governor Paterson has been slashing budgets, especially for alternative treatments, in the wake of a looming budget crisis at the state-wide level.
While critics claim the new move is too soft on crime and ineffective, there is little evidence to support that the current system is effective at all, and alternatively quite a large amount of evidence to the contrary. Many supporters of the policy shift have pointed out that the new measures would not be adopted for violent offenders, who would still be handled by the previous system, in order to ensure confidence in public safety. The plan is intended only to downsize the state system of juvenile detention, which has succeeded so far; since 2002, there has been a documented 56% reduction in placement of juveniles in detention facilities.
The merging of these two departments represents a stronger emphasis on the philosophy that troubled youths who make a few minor unfortunate mistakes are better off being treated in the company of their own family, or a foster family if they have no current place to call a stable home. It certainly seems a better solution than to place shoplifters at the mercy of violently sadistic teens who will further traumatize and/or corrupt the city’s youth. It is a significant step forward in the understanding of the root causes of youth crime and a far cry from the philosophies of certain former mayors, who tended to respond to all aspects of crime with the harshest tactics possible in order to gain political points, without regard for whether those policies actually produced results.
You can read the text of the entire State of the City speech given by Mayor Bloomberg here.
Sources: The New York Times, WNYC.org, Gothamist.com, CrimeReport.org, NYC.gov