Close to Home, New York City’s effort to keep incarcerated juveniles in nearby rehabilitative facilities, imperiled by recent budget decisions on the state level, have demonstrated signs of success while juvenile incarceration and arrest rates continue to decline.
“Juvenile crime was declining before, and continues after,” said Vincent Schiraldi, a professor at Columbia University and former head of the city’s probation department under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at a press conference last Friday.
An interim report on the initiative, showed that the city’s juvenile placements have dropped 68 percent since Close to Home began in 2012. Elsewhere in the state, placements have dropped 20 percent.
Juvenile arrests are down 52 percent in the city, compared with 41 percent for the rest of New York.
Schiraldi stressed that while advocates were not “implying causality,” the continued decline in arrests and placements shows that Close to Home did not create safety risk for the city.
“Kids have definitely moved to a more rehabilitative place, but also we’ve moved a lot out of placement entirely,” he said. “There’s been a much more rapid decline in the city than the state.”
The press conference was “planned for the fall,” Schiraldi said, but an interim report was drafted when “Close to Home got zeroed out of the state budget.”
In his 2019 budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) proposed elimination of state funding for Close to Home, shifting the full cost burden to ACS. Cuomo has also proposed capping the state’s contributions to child welfare services aimed at preventing the use of foster care.
Funding was restored in the State Assembly’s budget, but not in the Senate version.
Data on rearrests and re-entries to placement for Close to Home youth won’t be available until the full report comes out later. At the press conference, Schiraldi highlighted a number of other metrics suggesting the initiative had improved:
- 91 percent of Close to Home-placed youth were enrolled in community-based programs upon release.
- 93 percent of the middle school students in placements were promoted “at least” on grade level, and on average, placed youth earned 9.3 credits.
- Nearly half of the Close to Home students who took the New York Regents test, the exam required to graduate college, passed.
- 82 percent of youth transitioned from placements to a parent’s home or the home of a relative or guardian.
The city and state currently split the cost of the program, which has rerouted youth who used to be sent upstate to state-run juvenile prisons. The abusive conditions in several of those facilities came under investigation by the Department of Justice under President Obama.
The Close to Home structure includes two layers of residential placements: staff secure programs for lower-risk offenders, and fully secure facilities for the most serious or risky juveniles. It also includes three levels of probation, and three levels of community-based alternatives to placement.
There is a total of 30 Close to Home facilities in and around the city.
The initiative generated some ugly headlines in its first years, as providers new to juvenile justice services struggled to appropriately monitor youth in the new facilities. A 17-year-old boy left his placement in Queens and stabbed an 18-year-old man to death. In another instance, three boys left a facility in the Bronx and robbed and raped a woman in Chinatown.
AWOL incidents dropped 41 percent between 2014 and 2016, the interim report said. Assaults and altercations in the facilities dropped 38 percent.
The state’s share of Close to Home was $30.5 million for 2018, along with an additional $7 million pulled from federal funding. The city put in $38 million.
But the cost of Close to Home will balloon in the next few years because of another progressive juvenile justice reform: the recently passed plan to raise New York’s age of jurisdiction from 16 to 18.
The state estimates that outside the city, it can absorb older teenagers into the juvenile justice system with an increase of 262 beds. But according to the interim report, the state estimates that Close to Home placements will need to go from 195 beds to 685, more than a three-fold increase in capacity.
The state’s desire to shift child welfare and juvenile justice costs has prompted sharp criticism both ways in the pages of local media.
“For whatever reason, the governor chose to target children’s services,” said ACS Commissioner David Hansell, in an interview with the New York Daily News. “I don’t know why. That was his decision, so that reflects apparently a priority of the state administration.”
Cuomo’s staff told the Daily News that Close to Home was always considered a pilot project that the city would one day have to pay for itself.
Morris Peters, spokesman for the New York Division of Budget, said the city is receiving $500 million more overall from the state in Cuomo’s budget.
“They can use a small slice of that increase, they can tap into their billions of dollars of surpluses and reserves, or they can finally look for efficiencies within their budget,” Peters told the Daily News.