Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Juvenile Justice Reform


Al Siegel and I have a short piece in the New York Law Journal today under the headline "Time Is Ripe for Reforms in Juvenile Justice." Here's an excerpt:

Numerous studies have documented that community-based programs are demonstrably cheaper and more effective than incarceration, but these programs aren't free. Which raises an important question: in a time of fiscal uncertainty, will government be willing to put its money where its mouth is? Is it possible to generate the political will necessary to allocate scarce resources to providing delinquent young people with the structure and support they need to get back on track?

Unfortunately, there is evidence that the answer may be no. The current budget being negotiated in Albany eliminates the Community Reinvestment Program, which provides $4 million each year to support community-based alternatives for young people charged with delinquency.

These programs, which include one that our agency runs in Queens, are helping hundreds of vulnerable New Yorkers receive desperately-needed mental health care, drug treatment and other services.

In many ways, the stars are aligned for significant juvenile justice reform in New York—it is not every day that the mayor, the governor, and the chief judge are all in agreement. But experience has taught us a crucial lesson when it comes to reforming complex government systems. While it is important to have buy-in at the top from key government decision makers, real change can only happen at the ground level. This is not the time to consider scaling back our commitment to community-based services for troubled youth.