Dec 14, 2009

NY State: Juvenile Justice is Worse Than We Thought

The NY Times profiled the failings of the New York State juvenile justice system today. The task force that wrote the report (staffed by the Vera Institute of Justice and chaired by Jeremy Travis, the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice) was spurred to investigation in 2008 after years of complaints about the facilities. [Click here for another recent article in the times about the state of juvenile justice in New York State.] The report notes that these facilities are both costly and ineffective, and cites the following factors to describe the problems at hand:

"The prisons are meant to house youths considered dangerous to themselves or others, but there is no standardized statewide system for assessing such risks, the report found.

In 2007, more than half of the youths who entered detention centers were sent there for the equivalent of misdemeanor offenses, in many cases theft, drug possession or even truancy. More than 80 percent were black or Latino, even though blacks and Latinos make up less than half the state’s total youth population — a racial disparity that has never been explained, the report said.

Many of those detained have addictions or psychological illnesses for which less restrictive treatment programs were not available. Three-quarters of children entering the juvenile justice system have drug or alcohol problems, more than half have had a diagnosis of mental health problems and one-third have developmental disabilities.

Yet there are only 55 psychologists and clinical social workers assigned to the prisons, according to the task force. And none of the facilities employ psychiatrists, who have the authority to prescribe the drugs many mentally ill teenagers require.

While 76 percent of youths in custody are from the New York City area, nearly all the prisons are upstate, and the youths’ relatives, many of them poor, cannot afford frequent visits, cutting them off from support networks."

For a copy of the Task Force's full recommendations for reform, click here.