By Anne Teigen
State legislators and staff got the chance to learn about the latest juvenile justice reform policies across the country during NCSL’s Juvenile Justice Model Site Visit Sept. 24-26 in New York City.
The meeting, convened through a partnership with NCSL and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, provided an opportunity for the small group to learn from national experts about alternatives to youth incarceration and a new juvenile probation paradigm that focuses on intervention and behavioral change.
Additionally, attendees heard from local leaders about New York City’s Close to Home Initiative, 2012 legislation that aimed at investing in locally operated programs that allow young people to stay connected to their homes and families, rather than being sent away to state facilities.
During the opening reception, participants heard from Patrick McCarthy, executive director and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, about his prior work as a director of Delaware’s juvenile corrections system and how it shaped his thoughts today about juvenile incarceration.
As a featured guest, Jim St. Germaine, author of the new book, “A Stone of Hope,” talked about moving to America from Haiti, his experience in the juvenile justice system, and the rehabilitation program that changed his life and gave him purpose. He became the co-founder of Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides mentoring to at-risk and formerly incarcerated youth and currently works as a residential care advocate for the city of New York.
Nate Balis, director of the Juvenile Justice Strategy Group at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Vincent Schirladi, senior research fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, discussed comprehensive practice and policy changes that states are making to reduce reliance on out-of-home placements and ensure secure settings promote rehabilitation. Senator Whitney Westerfield (R-Ky.) discussed Kentucky’s closure of four youth facilities in the past two years.
Assemblyman David Weprin (D), chair of the New York Assembly’s Corrections Committee, and Jeffrey Butts, from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, discussed the history, successful work, and lessons learned from New York’s Close to Home Initiative.
New York City commissioner of probation, Ana Bermudez, Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Stephen Bishop. and Representative Roger Goodman (D-Wash.) discussed the profound effect of juvenile probation on youth and their families and innovative juvenile probation practices.
The group also toured South Bronx Community Connections, a model diversion program built entirely on the strengths of local grassroots faith and neighborhood organizations. The project focuses on young people who, absent early intervention, are likely to remain involved in the juvenile justice system. The initiative diverts youth who have been arrested from formal court involvement by connecting them to a network of positive adults and activities in their neighborhoods. Legislators were able to witness firsthand one of the organizaton's strategies for positive youth development at work while visiting a community garden and farm right in the middle of the Bronx’s Mott Haven neighborhood.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the group participated in a legislator roundtable where they reflected on the information they had heard over the previous few days and shared ideas and strategies for applying what they learned to their own legislative priorities back in their home states.
Anne Teigen covers juvenile justice issues in NCSL's Criminal Justice program.