Projects: New York State Detention Reform 2011

In 2011, Vera’s Center on Youth Justice (CYJ) began providing research and technical assistance to help New York State juvenile justice officials develop a strategy to reform detention practices and policies statewide. These reforms include the development of an risk assessment instrument (RAI) to be implemented in upstate counties by 2012.

In the spring of 2011, the final Executive Budget for New York State included provisions to positively influence local spending on detention and alternative programs and promote more objective decision-making about detention use.  The two key provisions include 1) providing fiscal incentives to promote spending on community-based programs instead of detention; and 2) requiring counties to use a risk assessment instrument to make detention decisions.

These changes mark the beginning of a larger effort by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), the state agency charged with overseeing the juvenile justice system, to establish a statewide vision and strategy for detention reform.  To support this work, OCFS has partnered with Vera and the Annie E. Casey Foundation (Casey). CYJ is currently providing research and technical assistance support to OCFS researchers as they work to develop and validate an empirically based RAI for upstate counties to implement within the coming year. CYJ staff are also working with OCFS and Casey to map out a comprehensive strategy for broader sustainable detention reform across the state that is grounded in Vera’s previous work in six counties and Casey’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) model. Ultimately, the state hopes to replicate its earlier success and see positive changes on a much larger scale with this new initiative.

More information about New York State’s juvenile detention reform is available in the summer 2011 issue of the New York State Detention Reform Newsletter, produced by OCFS.

Why This Work is Important

New York State spends more than $100 million annually on juvenile detention. Not only is this practice expensive, but research also shows that a stay in detention can increase a young person’s chances of further incarceration. One 2007 study found that youth who were detained prior to disposition were about 12 times as likely to be recommended for placement by the probation officer. Moreover, detention populations in New York State are disproportionately comprised of youth of color relative to their representation in the general youth population, which raises questions about the fairness of current decision-making practices. In New York City, for example, it is estimated that 92 percent of youth entering detention are either black or Latino. 

For more information, please contact CYJ’s associate research director, Insiyah Mohammad.