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Bill: Save Money, Send Fewer NY Kids to Jail

April 28, 2009

Albany, NY - Sending kids to jail costs too much and doesn't work, say backers of new legislation in Albany that would spend more state and county money on alternatives to locking up juvenile offenders. The bill, introduced by Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-Jamaica)and Senator Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn) is dubbed "Re-Direct New York."

The motive of the bill is simply put, by Meredith Wiley of the bipartisan, nonprofit group Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

"The reality is that a lot of kids who get locked up don't really need to be. It doesn't do them any good; as a matter of fact, it does them a lot of harm."

The measure would redirect state and county money away from expensive youth detention facilities to community supervision programs - including family therapy, home confinement, evening reporting centers and electronic monitoring programs, Wiley explains.

"It costs, on average, over $150,000 to incarcerate one child for a year. And for that, we get about a 75 percent recidivism rate. So, it costs a lot and it doesn't work. What 'Re-Direct New York' is designed to do is encourage the counties, provide incentives for the counties, to keep the kids home when you can, keep them in their communities when you can and work more effectively with them.”

Currently, as Assemblyman Scarborough points out, there is no incentive to redirect a youthful offender from incarceration to community supervision programs.

"If a local municipality tries to put a child in detention, the state pays 50 percent of that cost. There are no similar incentives to redirect a child."

Under the "Re-Direct New York" plan, the formula would be redrawn, according to Wiley.

"It actually will provide a 65-35 – that's 65 percent state, 35 percent local match - for community-based alternatives to detention.”

Backers say similar programs in Ohio, Illinois and other states have decreased their juvenile detention populations while simultaneously reducing juvenile crime rates. However, these types of measures have been suggested in Albany in the past, and have been criticized by corrections officers and the labor unions who represent them, as threats to the continued operation of detention facilities.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY