Oversight for New Juvenile Justice Homes

The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) announced plans last week to create an oversight board to serve as a watchdog for the city’s juvenile detention centers and placement facilities. ACS is accepting applications for this new board of volunteers, which the agency says will include at least one parent of a young person who has been involved with the juvenile justice system as well as a New Yorker who was formerly in the system.

This new board marks the latest step in the Bloomberg administration’s multi-million dollar Close to Home initiative, which transferred responsibility for all but the most severe of the city’s young lawbreakers from the state to the city. As part of the reform effort, young people who committed crimes in New York City and were confined upstate have moved into newly created group homes in the five boroughs. The homes were designed to be more homelike and therapeutic than the state-run facilities they replaced, and which a federal Department of Justice investigation denounced as dangerous and counterproductive.

Advocates have asked for assurance that these homes will receive independent oversight to prevent the abuses that plagued state facilities. “Children in the youth justice system, particularly those in residential facilities, are uniquely susceptible to abuse and mistreatment,” said Gabrielle Prisco, director of the Juvenile Justice Project at the Correctional Association of New York, when she testified at a state hearing last winter. Prisco challenged ACS to establish “a vigorous, well-funded, independent oversight body with the power to visit facilities unannounced and speak with kids in custody, and a mandate to report its findings to the public.”

Many details of the board have yet to be revealed, including whether the board has the power to make unannounced visits to facilities, or speak confidentially with young people. ACS commissioner Ron Richter will appoint the new board members, who will be tasked with visiting facilities to assess their conditions and developing recommendations and goals based on their findings. ACS says the board’s 10-15 members will issue a public summary report each year, with their overall goal being to “protect and safeguard the rights of young people.” At least one member will be from an organization that provides defense services to New York City’s young lawbreakers. ACS is also seeking applicants with expertise in education, mental health, and juvenile justice. Anyone who works for ACS or an organization who contracts with ACS is not eligible. Applications to be part of the board are due February 25th and can be accessed here.