More Low-Level Arrests under de Blasio than Bloomberg

In the first seven months of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the NYPD made more arrests for petty crimes than it did last year under former mayor Michael Bloomberg—and the racial breakdown of those arrests remains the same, according to numbers released yesterday by the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP). From January through July of 2014, police made more than 137,000 arrests for misdemeanor offenses, 86 percent of which involved people of color, according to data obtained by PROP from the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services. Last year’s number during the same period was just above 136,000, with 87 percent involving racial minorities.

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Youth Justice, Police and NYC’s Neighborhoods

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30, 2014 8:30 AM - 10:30 AM THERESA LANG COMMUNITY AND STUDENT CENTER, ARNHOLD HALL 55 WEST 13TH STREET, 2ND FLOOR [Photo by Andrew Hinderaker]Center for New York City Affairs at The New School presentsa Child Welfare Watch forum Co-sponsored by the New York Juvenile Justice Initiative

There’s been a sea change in New York City juvenile justice policy and police practices over the last two years: Courts now place most teen delinquents in city programs close to home, rather than upstate; and police have sharply reduced the use of stop and frisk, a tactic that overwhelmingly targeted young men of color. Policymakers in the new administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio seek to drive change even further, to improve police-community relations and strengthen juvenile justice programs while also securing public safety. How does the administration intend to pursue its objectives? What do community leaders and others believe needs to change? Will young people and community residents gain a meaningful voice in both policy and practice? And can better data collection and data sharing help shape new solutions, both inside and outside the walls of government?

A conversation with:

  • Gladys Carrion, commissioner, NYC Administration for Children's Services
  • Joanne Jaffe, bureau chief, New York Police Department
  • Chino Hardin, field trainer/organizer, Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions
  • Gabrielle Prisco, director, Juvenile Justice Project, Correctional Association of New York
  • Chris Watler, project director, Harlem Community Justice Center at Center for Court Innovation

Moderated by:

  • Andrew White, director, Center for New York City Affairs, The New School


This forum is made possible thanks to the generous support of The Prospect Hill Foundation and the Sirus Fund.  Additional funding for the Child Welfare Watch project is provided by the Child Welfare Fund, the Ira W. DeCamp Foundation and the Booth Ferris Foundation.

LGBTQ Homeless Youth Undercount?

As January came to a close, city and state governments and volunteers nationwide set out to count the number of homeless people living on their streets. As Sarah Goodyear reports in Atlantic Cities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning young people are likely underrepresented by a large margin in most of these local and national efforts. Mary Cunningham, a senior research associate of the Urban Institute, estimates LGBTQ young people could make up as much as 40 percent of all homeless teens and young adults. That estimate is reinforced by a study released last November  by the New York City Coalition on the Continuum of Care. Darrick Hamilton of The New School and Lance Freeman of Columbia guided a team of researchers surveying young people at New York City drop-in centers during the city's annual homeless street count. They found that 34 percent were lesbian, gay or bisexual and another 6 percent were transgendered. All but 10 percent of the young people identified and surveyed were black or Latino. Two thirds had run away from home before age 18, and one-third said physical, mental or sexual abuse was one reason for their homelessness.

Most had been homeless for a long period of time -- the median was two years. Yet almost half had at some point earned a high school diploma.

The findings of one-night, point-in-time surveys are not necessarily generalizable. The Urban Institute aims to strengthen data about homeless youth using the Youth Count! Project, in order to help cities better target services, schooling, health care and housing. More info on the project can be found here.

Child Welfare Watch News Digest - January 6, 2014

Here's some of the latest public policy news on low-income children, youth and families:

Last week, the Coalition for the Homeless released a policy brief that takes a critical look at former Mayor Bloomberg’s Advantage rent subsidy program, which ended in early 2011. The report finds that nearly half of families whose Advantage Program subsidies ran out returned to the shelter system. The cost to taxpayers of families returning to shelter is nearly $287 million. Read the full report here.

The Chronicle of Social Change examined notable developments in child welfare and juvenile justice in 2014, including the growing number of states keeping juvenile delinquents (youth 17 and younger) out of adult court, and proposed changes to federal support for state and local child welfare services. Read the full article here.

Bloomberg Businessweek examines Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to use a portion of New York City Pension funds for affordable housing. According to the de Blasio’s plan, $1 billion in pension funds would be directed towards housing, resulting in an additional 11,000 units over eight years. Critics of this approach cite competition from banks and declining federal funds for housing subsidies as key hurdles the de Blasio administration will have to overcome. Read the full article here.


January 16 - The Center for New York City Affairs will host “Taking the Fear Out of Financial Aid: Making Higher Ed Easier to Achieve.” The Center will also release the latest edition of its “FAFSA: How-To Guide for High School Students.” The event will include a keynote by Bridget Terry Long and a discussion about how to improve college affordability for the next generation of students. For more details and to register, click here.

New Report: Mentally ill adolescents in isolation on Rikers Island

The New York City Board of Correction released a report last week that documents the stories of three adolescents who were sentenced to more than 200 days in isolation on Rikers Island. Each of the teenagers, who were 17 and 18 years old when they were interviewed by the Board, had been diagnosed with a severe mental illness—two with bipolar disorder; one with depression. They had been placed in what’s known as ‘punitive segregation’ for behavioral infractions like fighting or assaulting a corrections officer.

Once in segregation, they spent 23 hours per day alone in their cells, according to the report. Their recreation took place in individual outdoor cages. They weren’t allowed to attend school and received no special education services. The majority of their appointments with mental health providers were conducted through cell doors—the adolescent stayed locked inside while the clinician stood in the hallway.

One of the adolescents described the isolation unit as a dungeon. Another talked about the repetitiveness of his days: “Sometimes you just sit there, to just sit there, to just sit there, for hours… hours of just sitting there… I talk to myself and answer myself now, and, all of a sudden, I start doing karate moves in my cell, and I don’t even do karate. This is crazy. I really feel like I’m bugging out in that cell.”

Young people between the ages of 16 and 18 make up about five percent of the average daily population on Rikers Island, according to the report. In a one-day snapshot conducted by the Board of Correction, nearly 27 percent of the 586 adolescents on the Island were in punitive segregation. More than 70 percent of those teenagers were diagnosed as mentally ill.

New York is one of just two states in the country to automatically send children as young as 16 though the adult criminal just system. Read here for information on legislative efforts to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Keep up with the statewide campaign here.


Child Welfare Watch News Digest -- October 31, 2013

Here's a roundup of this week's news on low-income children, youth and their families:

  • Represent Magazine’s fall issue features new stories by foster youth, including one young woman’s struggles as she aged out of foster care and transitioned to being on her own.

  • In The New York Times’ Fixes column, David Bornstein examines toxic stress in children and how we can protect them from its effects. “What the science is telling us now is how experience gets into the brain as it’s developing its basic architecture,” explains Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. “These insights provide an opportunity to think about new ways we might try to reduce the academic achievement gap and health disparities — and not just do the same old things.” (For Child Welfare Watch's recent report on toxic stress and New York's youngest children, click here.)

  • Nicholas Kristof’s October 27 column highlighted the multiple benefits of early childhood education, acknowledging  that “growing mountains of research suggest that the best way to address American economic inequality, poverty and crime is...early education programs.”

  • In “Out of Foster Care, Into College,” Michael Winerip chronicles foster youth in college and the support programs colleges that are helping them succeed.

  • A new study published in Developmental Science shows that language discrepancies between children of wealthier parents and their low-income counterparts begins even earlier. According to the study, the language gap can be observed in children as young as 18 months old, much earlier than had been previously observed.


  • November 12 - Mathematica Policy Research will host a forum on housing supports for youth aging out of foster care. The forum is being held in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  • November 13 - The federal Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will meet to discuss the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its implications for adolescent and young adult populations, including youth transitioning from juvenile justice and child welfare systems.

The Correctional Association's Critique of Juvenile Justice Oversight Plan

At a city council hearing yesterday, the Correctional Association of New York expressed concern that the Administration for Children’s Services’ (ACS) plans for a new board to oversee the city’s juvenile justice homes would not be independent of ACS. Because the board would report to ACS, Gabrielle Horowitz-Prisco, director of the juvenile justice project at the Correctional Association, likened it to an internal evaluation body rather than the type of independent oversight board recommended by the American Bar Association for criminal justice facilities. Read her testimony here. Victoria Sammartino, executive director of Voices Unbroken who formerly served on the committee that oversaw the city’s juvenile detention centers, suggested that the board should report to City Council rather than ACS.

At the hearing, the Administration for Children’s Services did not have an opportunity to respond to this concern.

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.

After Negotiations with Residents, the NYPD Slashed Trespass Stops in Public Housing

Over a two-year period, the New York Police Department (NYPD) cut the number of trespass stops on public housing grounds by nearly 60 percent. The drop came after a series of negotiations between police and public housing residents. In general, people on public housing properties are far more likely to be stopped and questioned by police than people in other parts of the city. Tenants of the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) make up about 5 percent of the city’s population, yet in each of the past seven years, between 11 and 15 percent of all police stops were made on their properties, according to police data recently filed in a civil rights lawsuit.

One of the most common justifications for a stop on public housing property is suspicion of trespassing: From 2006 through 2009, public housing accounted for roughly half of all trespass stops made by the NYPD.

Some residents argue that the stops are so frequent—and so often groundless—that they amount to a form of systematic discrimination against NYCHA residents. In a 2009 letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the Citywide Council of Presidents, an elected body of public housing tenant representatives, described policing in their buildings as “dehumanizing” and compared their homes to penal colonies. A short time later, tenants represented by the Legal Aid Society filed a class action lawsuit against NYCHA and the city, claiming that residents and their guests are routinely arrested on charges of trespassing in and around their own homes. (The suit is being heard by federal judge Shira Scheindlin, who ruled today in a separate lawsuit that the NYPD makes unconstitutional trespass stops outside private buildings in the Bronx.)

In the past, it’s been difficult to put numbers to claims of discriminatory treatment in NYCHA buildings, since the NYPD does not publish detailed information about where stops are made. Newly filed court documents show not only that public housing residents experience drastically disproportionate rates of police enforcement activity—but they also reveal that collaboration between residents and police officials may have led to a significant change in police practice.

Following the letter from the tenant council, police officials began a series of meetings with tenant representatives as part of a task force organized by NYCHA. In response to complaints of police harassment, residents and officials negotiated changes to the way police are trained, emphasizing the requirement that police have reasonable suspicion that a law has been broken before making any trespass stop on public housing properties. In the two years following the implementation of the new training, the number of trespass stops on NYCHA grounds dropped from 33,800 to 14,200.

There’s no evidence that reducing the stops limited the police department’s ability to enforce the law: Even as trespass stops fell sharply, the overall number of arrests on public housing remained nearly flat.

Civil rights attorneys point out that public housing residents continue to be subject to an outsized share of police surveillance and enforcement—even after the reduction in trespass stops. “The numbers are still very high and every week we have more people being arrested for trespass in NYCHA buildings who live in those buildings or are invited guests. People are humiliated and lose time at work. Prosecutors around the city are declining to prosecute a large number of these arrests because there is no evidence of a crime,” says Nancy Rosenbloom, one of the Legal Aid Society attorneys involved in the NYCHA lawsuit.

Other advocates, however, describe the task force as a rare example of collaboration between the NYPD and community members who feel aggrieved by aggressive police tactics like stop-and-frisk.

“Is the problem solved?” asks Reginald Bowman, a long-time tenant activist and current president of the Citywide Council of Presidents. “No, it’s not. But effort is being made to solve it, and I think the community would be better served if law enforcement personnel, victims, litigants, would all come to the table and spend the time, energy and resources they have in solving the problem.”

The past three decades have seen major changes in the city’s approach to collaborations between community residents and the police. In the 1980s, the NYPD implemented an extensive community policing program, assigning thousands of neighborhood patrol officers to the task of developing relationships with residents and working with them to solve quality-of-life problems.

As the department increased its reliance on targeted, “zero tolerance” policing through the 1990s and 2000s, it largely divested from the effort to build partnerships with communities. The NYPD’s Community Affairs Bureau—the division responsible for fostering goodwill and developing local relationships—is allocated $12.8 million per year. That's less than 0.3 percent of the total $4.5 billion police department budget.

Defenders of the NYPD’s policing strategies, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, point to a decade of plummeting murder rates and credit the department with taking guns off the street and saving the lives of thousands of young black and Latino men.

Critics counter that the city has relied far too heavily on aggressive patrol tactics, placing young men of color—especially those who live in public housing—under wholesale suspicion and threat of arrest.

The debate is likely to be central in the upcoming mayoral and City Council elections, with many community advocates calling on the NYPD to recalibrate the balance between cracking down on crime and respecting the rights of people in high-crime places. One question the city faces: At what point do tactics like stop-and-frisk become counterproductive, alienating law-abiding residents who would otherwise help police identify real troublemakers and solve crimes?

“What if we got to a place of trust where community residents could point to a crew and say [to police], ‘You’re focusing on what the kids in that crew are doing, but there’s a couple of older guys driving all the action, putting guns in their hands, and we’re sick of them?’” asks the Reverend Ruben Austria, the executive director of Community Connections for Youth. Austria’s program partners with the Department of Probation to work with young people in the juvenile justice system. “If the police were to go in and bust that person, the community would probably celebrate.”

As it is, Austria says, overcoming mistrust would require a commitment from the top ranks of the police department and City Hall. “Precincts don’t have the support of their own leadership for having real partnerships with community leaders,” he says.

Dominick Walters, a 21-year-old from the Bronx who’s been arrested twice on suspicion of trespassing—once in the building next door to the one he’s lived in since he was 5—puts it like this: “You just make everybody turn against you. It’s supposed to be the cops and the regular people against the criminals. Instead you got everybody against the cops.”

This article was adapted from a feature story about policing in New York City public housing, published in the Winter 2012-2013 print edition of Child Welfare Watch.

News Brief: Thousands More Teens Now Diverted from Juvenile Court

Each year, more than 10,000 teens aged 15 and younger are arrested by police. They begin their journey into the criminal justice system with a visit to an intake officer at the Department of Probation. Increasingly, the trip stops there. In a remarkable turnaround, the probation department has become an off-ramp for thousands of teens each year, diverting them away from court and into short-term community programs.

The number of teens aged 15 and under whose cases have been “adjusted” and closed by the probation department increased 47 percent between 2009 and last year, and has more than doubled since 2006. In 2011, 4,564 teens under age 16 arrested in New York City—38 percent of the total—had their cases closed through adjustment, up from 3,107 two years earlier.

Today, the city funds nearly 30 community-based adjustment programs, serving just over 800 young people as of June. The terms of an adjustment can include restitution for victims and the completion of one of these special programs, which involve community service or other projects. Adjustment periods typically last 60 days, though they can be extended to four months with a judge’s approval. If a young person meets the terms, he or she walks away from the case with no need to go deeper into the justice system. And that’s exactly the point: Especially for low-level offenders, explains Deputy Commissioner of Probation Ana Bermudez, involvement with the justice system often does more harm than good. “There is significant research that youth outcomes actually deteriorate with court processing, particularly when you’re looking at low-risk youth,” she says. “You interfere with those supports that were making them low-risk in the first place.”

Studies indicate that young people who are arrested and taken to court—even a juvenile or family court—are somewhat more likely to increase, rather than decrease, problem behavior, compared to those who aren’t put through the system. One meta-analysis of 29 random-assignment studies, covering more than three decades of research, found that court system involvement not only failed to deter future criminal activity, but often increased its likelihood.

So far, the probation department says its adjustment programs are getting positive results. Ninety percent of diverted youth make it through their assigned program, say officials. Of those, 86 percent are not rearrested within the following six months, during which their cases are tracked.

Administrators at the Department of Probation set the goal of increasing adjustment rates several years ago as one more step in their work to keep kids at home rather than sending them to juvenile lockups. So far, the changes have been achieved not through a legal overhaul of the department, but rather through a series of small yet significant tweaks to procedural policy. Officials are giving probation staff more training on intake procedures, and teaching them to tailor their recommendations to the risk level that the youth presents.

After a young person’s arrest, a probation officer reviews the charges and talks to the people involved to try to get a sense of the severity of the situation, the youth’s home and school life, and any other relevant factors. Probation officers use a tool known as an RAI, or Risk Assessment Instrument, to evaluate the risk of allowing the youth to leave rather than placing them in detention.

Bermudez says that some kids deemed low-risk by the RAI are still sent to detention for what she characterizes as “system barriers”—situations where there’s no other safe and supervised place for a young person to go—but the goal is to keep as many low-risk youth as possible out of institutions. In 2011, the department adjusted 68 percent of youth deemed low-risk on the RAI.

In order for an intake officer to refer a young person for adjustment, probation officials must get the consent of the victim of the offense. Bermudez says the department has sought to increase the willingness of common complainants, beginning with major department stores like Macys and H&M, which now consent to adjustment for young people who’ve been arrested for stealing merchandise, as long as they complete the department’s online anti-shoplifting program. Between January and July of 2011, shoplifting offenses made up a full 16 percent of all youth arrests, officials say.

Other changes have been achieved simply by retraining intake officers, says Bermudez. In the past, if a young person already on probation was arrested on a new charge, officers automatically denied adjustment. Now however, if there is no public safety threat, staff are instructed to consider whether the underlying issues causing the young person’s behavior are already being addressed through their probation. If appropriate, probation can continue or enhance those services, rather than send the youth to court.

Unofficial policy also used to dictate that if a complainant couldn’t be reached by 3 p.m. on the day of an arrest, a young person could not be adjusted. Now, officers are instructed to wait at least 24 hours before making their decision. Delores Hunter, a supervising probation officer in the Bronx Family Court Intake Services Unit, maintains that parents seem happier with the new methods. “We often meet parents who are either frustrated with their child for being arrested, or frustrated with a system that they feel arrested their child for no reason. But when they hear that we empathize with them and are able, when appropriate, to offer them adjustment services that will allow their child to get the help they need with minimal disruption, the parents leave more grateful than angry.”

Hunter says that at the while initially there were some reservations among intake staff at the probation department, most of her colleagues now believe the changes are for the better. “It is refreshing to be able to stand up and say that we, the Department of Probation, are trying to offer children an opportunity to stay out of the system, and really mean it,” says Hunter.