Projects: Brooklyn for Brooklyn Initiative

To create better outcomes for youth, families, and communities, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) partnered with Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) and the Missouri Youth Services Institute (MYSI) to design a new model for state juvenile justice custody that is therapeutic, community-based, and grounded in national best practices. Through the “Brooklyn for Brooklyn Initiative” (B4B), Vera assisted OCFS in planning and implementing a pilot of the model tailored to the needs of youth in Brooklyn and worked with OCFS to expand the model statewide.

Applying the December 2009 recommendations of Governor Paterson’s Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice and based on the approach developed in the state of Missouri, OCFS’s new model is characterized by a graduated continuum of small, nurturing programs, coupled  with a comprehensive, standardized assessment of individual risk and needs that enables OCFS to select the least restrictive and most appropriate placement environment in the continuum for each youth placed into state custody. The continuum programs are located near the communities where youth in state custody live and partner closely with families and communities in their development and care.

As Vera assisted OCFS in implementing the Brooklyn pilot, providing technical assistance and monitoring data to assess the fidelity of implementation and improve the approach in practice, we helped OCFS to plan for expansion of the model to another locality. Vera’s assistance was supported by OCFS, the New York State Division for Criminal Justice Services, Atlantic Philanthropies, and the David Rockefeller Fund.  

Why transform large juvenile justice systems?  

The conventional strategy among states—to place youth convicted of delinquent behavior into large correctional institutions modeled on the criminal justice system—has unequivocally proven ineffective in reducing criminal behavior among troubled youth and in keeping communities safe. Rather, studies routinely show high rates of recidivism among youth released from such facilities; reports of violence and abuse within facilities abound. In stark contrast, small, therapeutic, community-based juvenile justice systems focused on helping youth make lasting behavioral changes and building the skills and self-awareness necessary to succeed after release have demonstrated low recidivism rates and widespread success for youth, families, and communities.