Projects: New York City Detention Reform

Since 2006, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) has partnered with New York City’s Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator and juvenile justice stakeholders to change juvenile detention policy in the city so that youth who do not pose a high risk of flight or re-arrest before trial can remain connected to their families and communities.

Assessing and Improving New York City’s Detention Policy
CYJ provided research and technical assistance for the reform process, which has two primary elements:

  • Designing a Risk Assessment Instrument (RAI): CYJ helped the stakeholder group design a reliable way to help judges decide whether arrested youth should be released, referred to community-based programs under supervision, or detained before trial. To develop this risk assessment tool, CYJ collected and analyzed data on 1,735 court-involved youth to identify risk factors that most strongly correlate with a youth’s risk of flight or re-arrest prior to court disposition—or sentencing. For more information about the RAI, please see our report, Juvenile Detention Reform in New York City: Measuring Risk through Research.
  • Developing a Continuum of Alternatives to Detention (ATDs): CYJ helped the group develop community-based programming for youth who score medium risk on the RAI. Modeled after programs in Cook County (Chicago), Illinois, the new community-based ATDs provide three levels of supervision. The first (and least restrictive) level is community monitoring, in which program staff check in with youth regularly. The second level is an after-school supervision program, in which youth participate in tutoring, community service, and recreation. The first two levels of the continuum are offered by private, nonprofit providers. At the third level, the Department of Probation provides intensive community monitoring.

To help local officials evaluate the effectiveness of the RAI and the ATD programs, CYJ worked with the Criminal Justice Coordinator’s office, under state funding, to develop a Juvenile Justice Research Database that tracks outcomes for participating youths.

Why We Need Detention Reform
According to New York State statute, pretrial juvenile detention should be reserved for youth arrested under the age of 16 who pose a risk of re-offending or failing to appear in court prior to their next hearing. Until 2006, however, New York City lacked an objective tool that would help judges gauge a youth’s risk level. Additionally, the city lacked effective alternatives to detention for those youth who do not pose a high risk of flight or re-arrest before trial. With funding from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and various private foundations, CYJ worked closely with the city’s Criminal Justice Coordinator’s Office to make the detention decision-making process more rational and to improve services for arrested youth and their families. These efforts have, in part, enabled the city to downsize its detention capacity and in 2011, the city closed the doors to its largest detention facility—Spofford/Bridges.
For more information, contact center coordinator Insiyah Mohammad.

Juvenile detention reform in New York City: measuring risk through research
Family Court judges and other decision makers must weigh whether arrested youths are likely to reoffend or fail to appear if allowed to go home prior to their court date. To help guide these decisions, staff from Vera’s Center on Youth Justice partnered with juvenile justice stakeholders in New...

As part of New York City’s detention reform efforts, the Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) helped to design and currently manages a New York City-specific juvenile justice research database (JJRDB) that tracks youth from the early stages of system involvement through the court’s final decision and enables officials to assess the performance, effectiveness, and validity of the city’s risk assessment instrument (RAI) andalternatives to detention (ATD) programs.

Data categories and sources include:

• RAI Intake – The Risk Assessment Intake information includes scores for each individual item on the detention risk assessment instrument, total risk scores (low, mid, and high), and current charge information.

• Arraignment – Arraignment information, which is a summary of the judge’s decision at the arraignment hearing to release, detain, or send a youth to an ATD.

• Arrest – The record of the arrest as reported by the New York Police Department to the Criminal Justice Agency (CJA) includes current charge type, severity, and description, as well as the date  and time of arrest. The database includes this information for both the instant arrest (the arrest that led to the current case) and re-arrests in several specific follow-up periods, including during the pendency of the current case, and one year from arrest and disposition.

• Detention – Records of detention stays, including length of stay and facility type.

• Court – The record of the case as it moves through the courts, including key court processing dates and final disposition decisions (probation, placement, adjournment in contemplation of dismissal, and conditional discharge).

• Alternatives to Detention – The records of participation in an Alternative to Detention (ATD) program, to which some juveniles are assigned.

The amount of cross-agency information in the JJRDB is unprecedented and has enabled the city to track, monitor, and evaluate reform efforts. Initial findings from analysis of information drawn from the database indicate that the reform effort is succeeding in a number of areas, including reducing recidivism rates by about 30 percent in the period between arrest and sentencing and decreasing the use of detention for low-risk youth by almost two-thirds since 2008.

CYJ developed the database with technical support from Bennett Midland, LLC and funding from the city, state, and private foundations.

Why integrate multiple data sources?

The JJRDB, which contains data from multiple agencies, equips the city to assess timely, accurate information about juvenile crime, juvenile justice system processing, and other critical information on juvenile delinquents necessary for evaluation of its reform efforts. Its integration of multiple data sources has made the JJRDB a valuable resource for other projects and policy reform efforts as well. For example, CYJ and New York City have drawn data from the JJRDB to inform a project to develop strategies for reducing disproportionate minority contact with the justice system.

For more information, contact Jennifer Jensen.

Featured Expert

Director, Center on Youth Justice