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New York a Leader in Closing Youth Prisons

Although several youth prisons have closed, New York still charges all 16-year-olds as adults. (Neil Conway/flickr.com)
Although several youth prisons have closed, New York still charges all 16-year-olds as adults. (Neil Conway/flickr.com)
October 24, 2016

NEW YORK — Juvenile prisons don't work, and should be closed, that's the recommendation of a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report, titled "The Future of Youth Justice," said juvenile prisons do more harm than good to incarcerated youths and their communities. New York is one of only two states still automatically charging 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.

But according to Jennifer March, executive director at the Citizens Committee for Children of New York, the state has made real progress in ending the incarceration of children younger than 16.

"At the height of the economic downturn, they were able to close many, many upstate juvenile-placement facilities that really cost the equivalent of a Harvard education and were producing a 70 percent recidivism rate,” March said.

In New York City over the past four years, juvenile crime has dropped by 14 percent and the number of children in juvenile placement facilities has been cut in half, according to March.

Time in a juvenile prison can make a successful transition to adulthood almost impossible. Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of The Annie E. Casey Foundation and co-author of the report, said effective alternatives are smaller and more like home.

"Much more oriented to the appropriate developmental needs of young people,” McCarthy said, "a heavy focus on education, on job training and in preparing them to be successful through the rest of their lives."

McCarthy added that by closing costly youth prisons, states could free up funds to invest in more effective, community-based alternatives.

March said that while community-based programs for troubled youths is an important step forward, In New York the next essential step will be raising the age of criminal responsibility.

"To make sure that young people are held accountable in developmentally appropriate ways,” March said. "And that is better for their outcomes, their family's outcomes and society's outcomes overall."

Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed raising the age at which young people are charged as adults to 18.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY