The High Cost of Convicting Teens as Adults

The policy of trying 16- and 17-year-old nonviolent offenders as adults in criminal court has a damaging effect on the lifetime earnings potential of nearly 1,000 teenaged New Yorkers each year—costing them an estimated, cumulative total of between $50 million and $60 million in lost income over the course of their lives.

A Child Welfare Watch analysis demonstrates that the policy of trying 16- and 17-year-old nonviolent felony and misdemeanor offenders in adult criminal court has a high cost in foregone wages for each annual cohort of 16- and 17-year-olds that passes through the adult criminal courts, and also costs the government unknown millions in lost taxes.

The Watch reached its estimate using a method similar to that applied by researchers at the Vera Institute of Justice when they performed a 2011 cost-benefit analysis for a North Carolina state legislature task force. At the time, North Carolina was considering a legislative change that would have shifted cases of 16- and 17-year-olds charged with nonviolent crime to the state’s juvenile system.

Our analysis did not approach the full scope of the North Carolina study. Instead, we adapted one particular component—the cost of the current policy in lost earnings potential for young people tried in adult court who end up with a permanent criminal record. The authors of the North Carolina analysis calculated the loss in wages over a lifetime, finding that the average net present value of the earning differential between people with a record and those without totals $61,691 per person.

In New York State in 2010, there were a total of 2,063 young men and women aged 16 and 17 who ended up with a permanent criminal record following the disposition of a felony or misdemeanor in criminal court. About 40 percent of these, or 837 cases, were originally brought into the system on violent felony charges. We subtracted those 837 cases from our analysis, because under pending state legislation proposed by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, young people arrested for violent felonies would not be handled any differently than they are today.

This leaves 1,226 cases of 16- and 17-year-olds in New York State who ended up with a permanent criminal record following charges of a nonviolent felony or a misdemeanor. Based on historical state data, we made an educated guess that between one-fifth and one-third of these young people will eventually end up with a new criminal conviction at some point in their adult lives. We subtracted them from the analysis as well.

As a result, we concluded that an estimated 818 to 981 young people in New York State are added each year to the long list of men and women who would never have had a permanent criminal record if New York State treated 16- and 17-year-olds the same way nearly every other state does. If the initiative currently before the state legislature becomes law, young people in their position in the future will have their criminal records cleared or sealed.

While for the purpose of this analysis people likely to reoffend were not included, it is worth noting that the recidivism rate is influenced by factors such as employment. If having a conviction record makes it more difficult to get a job, we can predict that the difficulty of gaining employment will be associated with with an increase in recidivism.

The Vera Institute authors of the North Carolina study made other valuable points. For example, in a reformed system, 16- and 17-year-olds would be more likely to receive mental health treatment and vocational programs that would help them succeed in the job market and in life more generally. Based on a survey of recent literature from the federal Centers for Disease Control and other sources, the authors judged that handling young nonviolent 16- and 17-year-olds in the juvenile courts rather than the adult criminal system would lead to a 10 percent reduction in recidivism.

A caveat: Our analysis is intended simply to give some sense of concrete scale to the problem. We have not attempted anything like a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis. And the wage estimate is based on national data, not state-specific or city-specific numbers. As a result, it is entirely possible that we are vastly underestimating the lifetime wages that may be lost as a result of current policy.

**Christian Henrichson and Valerie Levshin’s paper for the Vera Institute of Justice, titled “Cost-Benefit Analysis of Raising the Age of Juvenile Jurisdiction in North Carolina,” can be found at www.vera.org

CWW 22: Recommendations and Solutions

On January 1, 2014, New York City will inaugurate its next mayor. The new administration will take office following 12 years of relatively consistent and, at times, progressive policy innovation in public agencies that influence the lives of low-income and working class families. In this issue of the Watch we report on large steps taken by the Bloomberg administration in juvenile justice, probation and children’s services, among others. We also look at the New York Police Department, one of the largest city agencies—and one that advocates a vision radically different from most others in city government, holding tightly to its aggressive strategy of high-intensity control, surveillance and street stops in the city’s poorest communities.

Following are recommendations and solutions proposed by the Child Welfare Watch advisory board for initiatives that may still need adjustment, as well as suggestions for dramatic change in the methods and philosophy of the NYPD.

CITY HALL AND THE NYPD SHOULD INVEST SIGNIFICANT RESOURCES INTO REPAIRING RELATIONSHIPS WITH COMMUNITIES THAT EXPERIENCE AGGRESSIVE POLICING.

People need the police to help keep their neighborhoods safe. They want police to be their partners, not a force of occupation of which every young man must beware. The city’s public housing developments experience a drastically disproportionate rate of police surveillance. Aggressive policing has bred resentment, anger and mistrust of the police.

The city needs to recalibrate the balance between aggressive crime deterrence and efforts to partner with communities, investing in work that builds positive relationships with residents of the neighborhoods that experience high levels of both crime and police surveillance. Police should sharply reduce the use of stop-and-frisk, which makes communities feel targeted and mistrustful. The mayor’s office and the NYPD should seriously consider policing strategies that have proved effective elsewhere at involving community members in the fight against crime, and preventing violence by targeting the small number of people in any community who engage in dangerous behavior.

In local precincts, valuable efforts are frequently made to develop positive relationships between police and community leaders. For example, commanders meet with public housing residents to discuss emerging crime patterns and police activity; officers participate in youth programs and violence prevention programs; Community Affairs officers work with residents when serious crimes take place.

But these efforts take far too low a priority in the department’s operations. The NYPD spends just $12.8 million per year on its Community Affairs Bureau—a tiny fraction of the department’s total $4.5 billion budget. Repairing the damage of overly aggressive patrol tactics can’t be the project of a marginalized bureau. It will require buy-in and support from the top ranks of the Police Department and City Hall.

Ironically, public housing provides a hopeful example: In 2009, the New York City Housing Authority called together a task force on safety and security made up of high-level officials and elected tenant representatives. In response to residents’ complaints about police harassment, the task force negotiated changes to the way police are trained, emphasizing the need for reasonable suspicion to make a police stop. In the two years that followed, trespassing stops on public housing grounds dropped by almost 60 percent. There’s no evidence that cutting down on trespass stops tied the NYPD’s hands when it came to enforcement: Even as the number of trespass stops fell sharply between 2010 and 2011, the total number of arrests on public housing properties remained nearly identical. These changes by no means solved the problems of distrust and alienation between police and public housing residents. But they do suggest that, in an area negotiated between the NYPD and residents most impacted by police policies—and where department leadership sat down to hear residents’ concerns and collaborate on resolving them—there was meaningful change.

THE DEPARTMENT OF PROBATION SHOULD MAKE GOOD ON ITS COMMITMENT TO WORK WITH COMMUNITIES, CREATING INFRASTRUCTURE FOR SHARED DECISION MAKING AND PARTNERSHIP.

The Department of Probation has engaged in a large-scale effort to integrate its programs into the neighborhoods where most probationers live, working with community organizations to provide services and supervision that allow both juvenile and adult offenders to stay in their homes, rather than being incarcerated.

Working in partnership with communities is a challenging task, particularly for a criminal justice agency that has traditionally focused on supervision and compliance. The DOP must continue to demonstrate that it is genuinely willing to share decision-making capacities with community residents, and to work with neighborhood organizations that do not conform readily to traditional models of criminal justice. For example, the DOP must carry out its commitment to create resident advisory boards for its new, neighborhoodbased probation offices, where community members can have a say in the restorative work that probationers do.

In the past year, the DOP has hired dozens of service organizations to work with juvenile and young adult probationers, providing everything from job training to intensive daily supervision. The DOP must ensure that some of those opportunities are available to the local, neighborhood-based organizations that help keep communities strong—not just the large service agencies that have more experience winning city contracts. The city should make some money available for technical assistance, aiding small organizations that may need administrative help to apply for and maintain government grants.

THE STATE LEGISLATURE SHOULD PASS, AND GOVERNOR CUOMO SHOULD SIGN, A BILL THAT WOULD TRANSFORM THE TREATMENT OF 16- AND 17-YEAR-OLDS IN CRIMINAL COURT.

The bill that is widely considered to have a chance of passing will be based on 2012 legislation submitted at the request of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. This bill would create a new system for handling young alleged lawbreakers who are currently treated as adults in the criminal courts. If it passes, the law would apply only to young people charged with nonviolent crimes, limiting the overall impact. Nonetheless, it would be a large step forward. First, the bill would allow local probation departments to adjust the case of any 16- or 17-year-old charged with a nonviolent crime, as they already often do for younger teens. The young person may agree to take part in an alternative program or participate in community service. If probation can’t—or won’t—adjust the case, the alleged offender would be prosecuted by the local district attorney in a new “youth division” to be set up in the criminal part of the state court. Following a guilty plea or conviction, the judge would have the same options she now has for all delinquents, including placement in a residential program, an alternative program run by probation, or some other combination of services and oversight. Regardless of how the case is resolved in the court, a teen prosecuted in the youth division would end up with no criminal record and her arrest record would be sealed.

Once this process is successfully established, advocates, courts and the legislature must press forward to incorporate 16- and 17-year-olds charged with more serious crimes. No 16- or 17-year-old should be automatically, summarily treated as an adult criminal.

PROSECUTORS SHOULD MAKE FULL USE OF THE PILOT DIVERSION COURT PROGRAMS IN CRIMINAL COURT.

Even without the legislation described above, many counties in New York State have already established versions of these pilot adolescent-diversion court programs for 16 and 17-year-olds charged with nonviolent crimes. These programs give young people the chance to avoid permanent criminal records and receive age-appropriate services that can help prevent future crimes. There is a great disparity among the counties in the percentage of eligible young people who participate in these courts. In Nassau, for instance, about 81 percent of all eligible young people take part. In Queens, that number was only 9 percent as of June 30, 2012. Each county’s court officials, district attorneys, and defense attorneys set their own policies around who the courts will and will not see, and district attorneys frequently act as gatekeepers, deciding which young people they will agree to send to these courts. We recommend that all eligible young people be sent to these courts.

AS ACS EXPANDS EVIDENCE-BASED PREVENTIVE SERVICES, IT MUST CONTINUE TO INVEST IN PROMISING PRACTICES AND SUPPORT PROGRAM DESIGN AND RESEARCH.

“Evidence-based” models are a valuable element of the ACS preventive services system and investment in such programs makes good sense. Yet they should not crowd out other innovative or potentially effective but inadequately researched programs. Research in this field is far too scarce for ACS to not also be looking for and investing in innovation. Ideas for effective preventive services emerge from practice and innovation, and there must be room for such ideas to flourish. What’s more, most of the evidence for Multisystemic Therapy, Functional Family Therapy and related models is based on their use in juvenile justice systems, not child welfare, and it is not assured they will succeed in achieving the goals of the child welfare system, including child safety, permanency, and well being. Even the evidence for such programs in juvenile justice is mixed; they must be studied closely in their use in child welfare. Meanwhile, longstanding case management programs may or may not be cost effective—we don’t know for sure. More attention must be paid to defining the most promising practices of these programs—and developing evidence of their effectiveness.

CITY HALL AND THE CITY COUNCIL SHOULD ENSURE THAT EVIDENCE-BASED PREVENTIVE SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE TO FAMILIES NOT INVOLVED WITH CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES.

When services are reserved only for families who have already been investigated by child protective services (CPS), then parents are more likely to see the preventive service systems as punitive and as an extension of the foster care system, and less likely to see them as a valuable source of help. The availability of preventive services should be driven by community need, not only by the rate of CPS referrals. By making these services available to families who are encountering difficulties, but who have not come to the attention of CPS, they can help fulfill preventive service’s most lofty mission—to serve and protect families before they are on the brink of extreme crisis. This may require a greater investment—but it is an investment of the sort that government should value highly, given the fact we know these programs can make a difference.

CITY HALL MUST INVEST MORE HEAVILY IN COMMUNITY SUPPORTS.

The evidence-based programs ACS  is adopting for child welfare are primarily clinical, short-term interventions that work with individual families who fit a specific profile, such as families with teens who have a substance abuse issue. As we invest in these services, we must also invest more heavily in the core infrastructure of community supports including afterschool programs, child care, and educational and housing supports. These are the services that persist when a family has completed a clinical evidence-based intervention, or when a young person returns home from foster care or a juvenile justice facility. They are the supports that are critical to the success of the new juvenile justice homes that have recently opened in New York City, and to those young people who have been diverted from the criminal justice system altogether. Investing in supports that strengthen and are rooted in communities acknowledges the critical role played by our families’ natural support systems in helping young people grow up healthy and safe. Without this infrastructure, more time-limited interventions may be futile.

Case Closed: Thousands More Teens Are 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.

***

In a room on the 11th floor of the Family Court building in Brooklyn, former graffiti artist Ralph “Tatu” Perez is struggling to connect with the students in his Paint Straight program. There are just four of them—all teenage boys who’ve recently been arrested for graffiti or vandalism.

Short and spry, Perez leans back in his chair. “Y’all know what karma is?” he asks.

All but the two youngest kids nod their heads. A 13- and 14-year-old, recently arrived from Yemen, they are struggling to understand the language.

“You see these scars?” Perez asks, pointing to his own face. “I did a lot of bad things. Ever notice my nose? See how part of it is missing? I was attacked by two pit bulls.”

The kids lean forward, peering at his nose. Perez nods. “They chewed my face up. I went into a coma because I lost so much blood. Here I was, living life, thinking I was okay, then out of nowhere come these dogs.” He rolls his chair closer to the thirteen-year-old, who is wide-eyed. “You see?”

“You still have the dog?” asks the boy, only partially understanding.

“No man.” Perez laughs. “It wasn’t my dogs.” Then he goes back to his point. “You do bad things, it’s going to come back to you and haunt you.”

Perez’s Paint Straight program is one of several new programs funded by the probation department to work with kids who get in trouble with the law. According to Perez, in the two years he’s been running his classes, only one participant out of 60 was subsequently rearrested.

The program runs in six-week sessions during which arrestees meet in small groups with Perez, who talks with them about vandalism laws, addictive and compulsive behavior, and respecting their communities. He also gives them some art history, starting, he says, with how the human urge to draw on walls has existed “for as long as man stood up straight.” The goal is to teach respect for laws and community while still encouraging kids to express themselves artistically.

At the start of the first class, Perez checks in with the kids. He asks a 15-year-old about his involvement in gangs, but the youth shakes his head and says he is no longer involved.

Perez is pleased. “You left the gang? Why?”

The boy shrugs. “Because my girl.”

Perez nods. “That’s good. My mother says always listen to the women.”

The 13-year-old clicks his pen on and off, smiling brightly when Perez scowls at him. It’s hard to gauge how the class is being received by its participants. The two youngest boys—the Yemeni immigrants—are clearly having trouble following what’s going on. Perez says the boys weren’t familiar enough with U.S. customs to know that what they were doing was a crime. The younger of the two smiles winningly at everyone. The older one sits beside him, politely alert, but clearly left out of the conversation.

Another boy, the oldest in the group, is visibly frustrated to be there. He leans back in his chair, sullen, and sighs angrily when Perez questions him.

“This is stupid,” he says during a break. “How are you gonna tell us that graffiti is bad and then turn around and tell us how to do graffiti?”

***

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 Macy’s 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 accounted for 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, says that while initially there were some reservations among intake staff, 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. She maintains that parents, too, 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.”

***

At Paint Straight, the class is almost over. Soon Perez will  tell the kids he’s taking them for pizza down the block, as he does at the end of every class. They’ll gather up backpacks  and jackets and Perez will remind them to be on time next Tuesday. “If you don’t come next week, everyone takes a turn  throwing their schoolbooks at you,” he jokes.

Perez has talked to the kids for over an hour about graffiti, crime and community, and asked them about their families, their relationships, and their plans. An hour or so into the class, another young person joined the group–a former Paint Straight student, now returned as a mentor to others in the program.

But for now, Perez is still working to imprint the lessons he learned from his own life. Long ago, in the 1980s and early 90s, his DROID graffiti tag was notorious, peppered across the city. He says he long since decided that tagging and vandalism are not the way to make it as an artist, or in life.

“When you do good, it comes back to you,” he says to the teens, building on the karma theme.

He looks intently at each of the kids, one by one. “That’s what I believe. Maybe it’s God, maybe Allah, maybe the universe. When you do good, good things come back to you.”

 

To Protect and Serve? The Uneasy Relationship Between Police and Public Housing Residents

The stairwell of Kis (pronounced “kiss”) Ravelin’s building in the Washington Houses, a two-block cluster of New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments in East Harlem, could double for that of almost any public housing high rise in the city: Mustard-yellow walls rise up from a run of concrete steps, seeping a faint smell of SpaghettiOs and disinfectant. At the bottom, a dim lobby opens onto glass and steel security doors with a broken lock and defunct intercom system. Visitors are greeted by a sign announcing: “NYCHA Premises Are For The Use Of Residents, Invited Guests, And Persons With Legitimate Business Only. NO TRESPASSING.” Ravelin, who’s 23 years old and generally found wearing a skeptical expression and an immaculate pair of hightops, lives at the top of the first flight of stairs in an apartment he shares with his parents and a 2-year-old terrier named Rex. He’s been in the building since he was 14 but spends much of his time at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, New York, where he’s halfway through a degree in business management. A few evenings each week, he practices bass in the band at the church he’s attended most weekends of his life. The neighbors call him Quiet Boy.

Which is why they were surprised—“bedazzled,” says a silver-haired lady who lives down the hall—one afternoon three years ago to see him with his hands against the lobby wall, legs spread while two police officers turned out his pockets and searched his pants and socks. Finding them empty except for a few dollars, a set of house keys and no ID, the officers cuffed him and put him in the back of a squad car. The charge was trespassing—in the entryway of his own building.

New York City has spent much of the past year embroiled in a loud, often volatile debate over how it polices its lowest-income residents. At the heart of the controversy is the New York Police Department’s strategy of targeted, “zero tolerance” policing: First, identify the places where crime is happening most. Second, flood those places with police officers, instructed to crack down on low-level offenses in the hopes of preventing more serious crime. Central to the strategy—and the furor it inspires—is the practice of “stop, question and frisk,” whereby patrol officers detain and sometimes search people on the street, in theory because an officer has reason to believe that a person has been, is, or will be engaged in committing a crime.

Defenders of longtime NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly point to a decade of plummeting murder rates, crediting the department’s use of aggressive, targeted policing with taking guns off the streets and saving the lives of thousands of young black and Latino men. Critics counter that the city has done away with the presumption of innocence, placing young men of color under wholesale suspicion and threat of arrest.

Within the neighborhoods that have become notorious as hotspots for aggressive policing, public housing developments are the melting points. Residents live out the city’s policing debate at its extremes, victimized by violent crime at nearly double the rate of the rest of the city—and subject to far more intensive police surveillance. Many older tenants say they’re afraid to leave their apartments for fear of crime. Younger residents often say they’re more afraid of the police—that being stopped, searched and sometimes arrested is a defining part of adolescence as a NYCHA tenant. In 2009, the Citywide Council of Presidents, an elected body of tenant representatives, delivered a letter to Commissioner Kelly that described policing in their developments as “dehumanizing” and compared their homes to penal colonies.

Earlier this year, the NYPD pulled back on the number of street stops by just over a third—a move that quieted some criticism, although officers continue to conduct more than 44,000 stops per month according to the most recent data. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly have dismissed calls for any formal policy change and defend the use of high-volume stop-and-frisk as New Yorkers’ best defense against violent crime.

It’s a refusal that puts the NYPD out of step, in many ways, with the city’s other criminal justice agencies. In the last decade, New York has slashed the rate at which it sends people to jail and prison, investing millions of dollars into courts and programs that monitor offenders in the neighborhoods where they live. The city has created neighborhood services for teen lawbreakers designed to keep them with their families and out of jail; ramped up court diversion programs; and, among other things, improved educational opportunities and job supports for people on probation. One explicit goal has been to rebuild relationships between the criminal justice system, and the communities thrown into chaos by previous decades incarceration booms. Another is to focus attention on the tiny number of people in any neighborhood who commit the most serious crimes.

Criminal justice reforms are among the defining social policies of Mayor Bloomberg’s three terms in office, yet they have failed to reach the system’s front door. With the coming of a new administration, that’s unlikely to last. Under the pressure of snowballing lawsuits and public protests, New York City is being forced to face questions about the complicated nexus of public safety and civil rights— and about what change could look like: Can the NYPD become more legitimate in the eyes of people who live in the communities most vulnerable to crime? How can police repair relationships with the people who need them most?

Ironically, some of the answers might be found here, at the epicenter of both violent crime and police crackdown: New York City’s public housing.

***

Public housing residents in New York City live with far more than their share of crime, and the problem is getting worse. The overall rate of reported crime is 30 percent higher in NYCHA developments than in the rest of the city. Rates of violent crime are nearly twice as high, and drug crime rates are four times higher. Over the past two years, the number of major felonies—murder, rape, robbery, felonious assault and so on—has gone up by 14 percent on NYCHA properties, while the same crimes have risen just 5 percent citywide.

Public housing residents also see considerably more than their share of the police. NYCHA complexes are patrolled by a special NYPD Housing Bureau, made up of more than 1,800 officers. They are also covered by local police precincts, and many fall into the NYPD’s Impact Zones, targeted for intensive roving patrols. The Housing Bureau operates its own Impact Response Team, which it deploys to developments in response to jumps in criminal activity. Altogether, in 2011, the NYPD conducted over 151,000 patrols in NYCHA buildings. That breaks down to more than 400 per day.

In 2010, a group of public housing residents, represented by the Legal Aid Society and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, filed a class action lawsuit against New York City, claiming they had been wrongfully arrested for trespassing either in their own buildings or in other NYCHA developments. Their arrests, the lawsuit charged, were the result of a culture of discriminatory policing: Residents and their guests are stopped by police so often, the plaintiffs argued, that the NYPD effectively manages pedestrian checkpoints on public housing properties, violating the Constitutional rights of tenants, who are mostly black and Latino.

This summer, the plaintiffs obtained data that had never before been available to the public: eight years of detailed numbers on crime and policing in and around public housing residences. The data confirm that intensive police presence corresponds to an outsized rate of stops: Public housing residents make up about 5 percent of the city’s population, but in each of the past seven years, NYCHA properties accounted for between 11 and 15 percent of all documented police stops. The plaintiffs hired Columbia University Law School Professor Jeffrey Fagan to analyze the policing numbers. Even while controlling for higher crime rates, Fagan found that people on public housing property are close to twice as likely to be stopped by police than people in surrounding neighborhoods.

The disparities are even bigger when it comes to stops made only on suspicion of trespassing. From 2006 through 2009, public housing accounted for roughly half of all trespass stops in the entire city.

In order to stop a person on public housing property or anywhere else, police are required by law to have a specific, explainable reason for why they believe this person has committed or is about to commit a crime. Defense attorneys point out that this is an improbable standard to meet when the potential offense amounts to standing in a lobby. “It’s very difficult for a cop who isn’t regularly on the beat, especially a rookie, to establish probable cause for trespassing unless the person they confront admits, ‘I don’t know anybody here, I’m just loitering,’” says Chris Fabricant, a professor at Pace University whose legal clinic frequently represents trespassing defendants.

Residents and civil rights advocates say that what happens, in practice, is that police run sweeps of NYCHA buildings and their grounds, stopping most anyone they see. “If someone cannot immediately provide a name and apartment number for the police to then verify they are in fact visiting, an arrest is made,” said Christian Lassiter, an attorney from the Bronx Defenders, in testimony to the City Council. “If someone visits a ‘sister’ building in the same NYCHA development in which he or she lives and in many cases, grew up in, that person is arrested… If someone has an outdated identification, showing a different address than his or her current residence, that person is arrested. Frankly, if someone looks or dresses the wrong way, he is stopped and searched and frequently arrested.”

On the few occasions that its officials have spoken publicly on the issue, the NYPD defends trespass arrests with the arguments at the heart of zero-tolerance policing: The ability to pick people up for low-level crimes not only maintains order for law-abiding residents, but deters criminals who would otherwise go on to do far worse things. Chief Joanne Jaffe, who heads the NYPD’s Housing Bureau, told the City Council back in 2006 that “The nexus between quality of life offenses and violence is very clear. … As a result of summonsing [low-level offenders] or arresting them for those summonses, we are able to deter certain crimes.”

Peter Vallone, Jr., the chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, sought to clarify: “So basically, what you’re saying is, by grabbing someone for trespassing, you’re preventing… a potential robbery or something of that nature before it occurs.”

“Absolutely,” said Jaffe, who then listed the results of quality-of-life stops made by Housing Bureau police in Brooklyn during the fall of the previous year: “In September, stopped a male for acting disorderly. The male was wanted for a shooting in [precinct] 79. September, stopped a male for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk. Male was wanted for a shooting in the 88… Stopped male for smoking in lobby of development in the 81 precinct. Male was armed with a loaded 32 caliber gun…”

Kis Ravelin, the 23-year-old from the Washington Houses, says he’s not unsympathetic to the logic of enforcing low-level crimes. He’s got as much reason as anyone to want loiterers and drug dealers removed from his building, he says. “We want the police here to protect and serve. The problem is when you start to feel like a prisoner in your own home.” Ravelin says he sees officers in his building about three times a week. Often, they’re looking at pictures of suspects on their phones, checking his face for a match. “It makes you feel like an experiment gone rogue,” he says. “Like they’re waiting for you to go haywire.”

Ravelin’s arrest for trespassing happened in the summer of 2009, when he was 20. He had gone to the store on his corner, he says, and returned home to find two officers in his lobby. One asked his name and where he lived. When he answered, she said she wanted to come upstairs and watch him open his door. “I told her I’d go get my ID and bring it down for them,” says Ravelin. “I didn’t see a need for them to follow me. I’m in my own home. I felt like my word should be enough.” In a misdemeanor complaint filed with the Criminal Court of the City of New York, the arresting officer—a member of the Housing Bureau’s Impact Response Team— says that Ravelin told her, “I don’t have to do anything and I don’t have to go upstairs to show you I live here.”

That’s when the officer told him he was giving her “too much lip,” Ravelin says, and ordered him to put his hands on the wall. She brought him to Central Booking, where his fingerprints and a retinal scan were taken. He was held in a cell for about 20 hours, he says, before he went in front of a judge, who looked at his address and dismissed the case.

It’s when the charges stick, say defense attorneys, that arrestees face a complicated decision: Trespassing defendants are typically charged with up to three misdemeanors and given the option of pleading down to a violation. Even when a person is innocent, it can be far simpler to plead guilty to the violation and walk away than to fight the charge. Contested cases can drag on for months, requiring defendants to show up at court as many as seven or eight times, missing school or work to sit around the courthouse for much of the day.

For the 40 percent of trespass arrestees with no criminal record, accepting a violation is unlikely to have a drastic impact on their lives. Fighting a case, on the other hand, means risking a permanent misdemeanor conviction and its attendant barriers to employment, housing and financial aid. “It’s incredibly frustrating and sad when you have a client that wants to fight their case but really can’t afford to do it,” says Chris Fabricant, the lawyer from Pace University. “You tell them, ‘Next week we could have a trial.’ The majority have done nothing wrong. They would take that option. But when they’re informed about what it would mean to fight the case, they can’t do it.”

For Kis Ravelin, the process was an infuriating waste of time. “What was the point?” he asks. “Is that all? You’re gonna frisk me? Go through my pockets? Violate me? Lock me in a cell? And then it’s just done? I wasn’t gonna let it slide.” A few months after the arrest, he filed a civil suit that’s still pending against the city, seeking $15,000 in compensation.

***

In a corner building of the Abraham Lincoln Houses in East Harlem, two blocks south of the Madison Avenue Bridge and several blocks northeast of gentrification, Aida Melendez and Diane Hull sit at a card table in the lobby of the high rise in which they’ve lived for a cumulative 88 years. Melendez has been here since she was born, 61 years ago next month. Hull married into the development nearly three decades ago. Since January, they’ve served as co-captains of the building’s Resident Watch, sitting at the door from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. nearly every weekday, armed with a house phone, matching NYCHA issued windbreakers and an oversized book of word-finds.

Melendez, who wears her Resident Watch cap low over a graying buzz cut and oversized Buddy Holly glasses, says that between them, she and Hull know everyone who lives here. Conversations during their shift are punctuated by calls of “How you doing, sweetie?” “How are those girls of yours?” and, most frequently, “Pardon my French.” (There is a lot of swearing at the Lincoln Houses Resident Watch.) Melendez keeps a bag of candy under the table for kids who’ve been good at school.

NYCHA’s Resident Watch program has existed under various names since the 1960s, with evolving levels of connection to the police. In the current incarnation, active Watch sitters are registered with local Housing Bureau precincts. At the beginning of each shift, Hull and Melendez call over to Police Service Area 5, the station that covers public housing developments for most of Harlem. Before they leave, a pair of officers comes to check in and patrol the building. In between, Hull and Melendez keep a log for visitors to sign. If there’s any trouble, they phone the Watch supervisor, who puts in a more urgent call to PSA 5.

So far, says Melendez, there haven’t been any problems during a shift—but not because of the police. “You don’t see my bodyguards?” she asks, pointing to a row of middle-aged men sitting on benches outside the door: Richie, Bingo, Nardo, Coven, Isaiah and Bigfoot. “We grew up together here, we look out for each other,” she says. When Melendez got her retirement payout a few years back, Coven volunteered to be her personal escort, walking her around the neighborhood while she spent cash on gifts for her nephews. Richie, she says, will take any excuse for a fight. “God forbid he gets three drinks in him. Your ass is grass.” Nardo looks somewhat less reliable, eyes closing as he droops forward over a copy of the Daily News. “He’s a druggie, but he’s a good lookout too,” says Melendez. She watches him nod out for a moment. “When he comes back up he can tell you every word he read.”

In 2010, NYCHA revamped and renamed the Watch program which, in addition to keeping members in card tables and windbreakers, pays supervisors at each development a monthly salary of about $500 to recruit and oversee volunteers. Keith Massey is the Watch supervisor at Lincoln Houses, where recruitment is not booming: Of the 20 buildings in the development, only three operate Watches. The total volunteer roster is 18, the sitters’ median age about 61.

At a recent recruitment drive in the lobby of his own building, Massey taped flyers to the wall, advertising the opportunity to “make your community a better, safer place to live.” Massey, 60 years old with owlish eyes and a stringy, five-and-a-half foot-frame, leaned against a bank of mailboxes for the duration of the appointed hour, greeting residents on their way home from work. No one stopped for information about the Watch.

“People fear for their lives,” says Massey. “We have a major crime problem here.” As soon as the sun goes down, Massey and other members of the Watch say, drug dealers wait in front of the buildings and in the lobbies, selling crack and marijuana to buyers who use it in the stairwells and on the roofs. Groups of young men hang out on the grounds through the day and night, shooting dice, smoking weed and riding motor scooters through the courtyards where little kids play.

Things get especially tense in the summer, when residents say they hear gunshots at least three times a week. “If you don’t know how to tuck and roll, you better not be outside,” says Melendez. “Iraq? That’s not shit compared to Lincoln.”

Two years ago, NYCHA mailed a survey to 10,000 resident households, seeking opinions about safety and policing in their buildings. Of the 1,100 people who responded, nearly 80 percent said they were somewhat or very fearful of crime in their developments. Asked whether fear made them change their behavior in their homes, half said they avoid teens and 55 percent said they sometimes choose not to leave their apartments. The survey didn’t show overwhelming discontent with the NYPD: Seventy-three percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that officers have treated them and their visitors with courtesy, professionalism and respect. Twenty-seven percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.

What was notable about the survey (though it wasn’t particularly noted in the press releases put out by NYCHA) was that 83 percent of respondents were over age 40. The largest group by far—nearly 40 percent—were age 62 and older. In a subsequent report, NYCHA said it planned to conduct a separate survey for young residents, but that hasn’t happened.

Older residents often describe the crime problems in their buildings as generational. “Young guys now have no respect for older adults,” says Charles Myers, age 64, who’s lived in his building for 40 years and does a Watch shift every evening. He says he’s been threatened by teenagers who call him a snitch, trying to warn him off the Watch. “I put my table up like I do every other night,” says Myers. And it works—the loiterers clear out long enough for residents to come home and get their kids inside for the evening, Myers says. “Then I leave and they come right back.”

Back at the height of New York City’s crime and drug epidemics, low-income residents often complained that the police ignored crime in their neighborhood—that they couldn’t even get a response to a 911 call. When the city launched its zero-tolerance strategy, many older NYCHA residents saw it as a vast improvement on what had come before. “I thought the patrols were good because they dealt with the loitering,” says Keith Massey, the Lincoln Watch supervisor. “But then I saw it go too far.” Just a few weeks ago, Massey says, he watched a police officer approach a young resident in front of the building and reach into his pocket. “That boy wasn’t doing anything wrong,” says Massey. “There’s no reason to treat him like that. It starts to make you think, ‘Are you under the assumption that I’m a criminal because I live in public housing? Because of the color of my skin?’”

Another longtime resident, who asked to remain anonymous because she worked for the NYPD for 26 years, described a similar evolution of thought. “I didn’t used to think the police were being too aggressive,” she said. “I’ve always said there should be more police presence in the developments. But it seems like the police in our neighborhoods, they’re not from here. They’re from Long Island, upstate. They don’t realize they’re talking to people who need respect just like everyone else. Everyone here is not a perp, there’s a lot of good people here just like in their communities… Their motto is courtesy, professionalism and respect, but they don’t do that in our neighborhood.”

***

Residents’ concerns come down to a simple duality, says Erik Crawford, who’s served as the Resident Association president of the Davidson Houses in the South Bronx for the past 14 years: People want police presence around their homes in order to feel safe from crime. And they want to go about their lives without being harassed or treated like suspects.

Crawford was first elected president of the Davidson association when he was just 18. It was the late-1990s, and nearly two decades of the city’s violent crime and crack-cocaine epidemics had left the building with a deep-running fracture: Older residents who lived in the senior section were suspicious of teenagers on the family side, says Crawford. Crawford’s peers felt bombarded by the aggressive tactics that had come to dominate the city’s policing strategy.

Crawford campaigned as bridge builder. His mother had deep roots in the building and friends on the senior side, who’d watched Crawford grow up and thought he was a good kid. Young people saw him as one of their own. He promised to improve the development’s infrastructure and to fund activities to help keep kids out of trouble—and he made good on those promises. Soon after becoming president, he lobbied NYCHA for close to a million dollars to fix the building’s chronic heat and hot water problems, plus $175,000 to turn an abandoned parking lot next door into a basketball court. More recently, he got a million-dollar grant from the Bronx borough president to refit Davidson’s community center kitchen for cooking classes, and worked with a nonprofit tech company to install closed-circuit TV cameras in the main lobby of the building.

But a significant piece of his role, says Crawford, is dedicated to brokering relationships between young people who feel victimized by the police, older residents who still live in fear of crime, and the officers who regularly patrol the building from the Housing Bureau’s PSA 7 and the 42nd precinct. Davidson sits within six blocks of five junior-high and high schools. At dismissal time, dozens of teenagers walk across the building’s grounds. Some live there; some use it as a way to get to the bus on Prospect Avenue, which runs parallel to Davidson’s front wall. When the weather’s nice, groups of kids stand outside the building or in front of the corner store across the street. “They want to hang out for a minute, say goodbye to their friends,” says Crawford.

Most afternoons, they are met by a police van or squad car that parks on the street between Davidson and the store. Between two and five officers get out to ask them where they live or tell them they can’t congregate in front of the store, Crawford says. Sometimes, officers stand at Davidson’s main entrance, asking kids for ID as they walk through.

In many ways, says Crawford, young people take this routine for granted. This is a generation of kids who’ve grown up with zero-tolerance policing. When they were little, they watched older siblings and cousins get stopped and searched by officers on their streets. When they reached adolescence, it started happening to them. They learned that this is what happens to people who live and look like them in New York City. “Being black or Hispanic, plus living in public housing, you have to face the fact that you’re gonna be targeted,” says Crawford. “It’s a double-whammy.”

Interactions get heated when young people feel they’re being treated disrespectfully. “Some of [the officers] will just walk up and tell them to get against the wall,” says Crawford. “Some of the young people have a lot of anger for the police. They don’t want to be humiliated in front of their friends. Maybe they’ll mouth off to the officers, start cursing, and it escalates from there.”

Crawford’s fear, over the long-term, is that when kids feel targeted, it turns them against cops and by extension the law. “When they’re 16 years old and they deal with this every day, they’ll never have respect for the police,” he says. “The consequence is you’re more likely to end up behind bars because all these negative interactions cause you to violate authority.”

Crawford says he’s seen relationships between police and young people get steadily worse over his time as Davidson’s association president, but he’s also seen one thing with the power to disrupt that process: face-to-face conversations between police officers and young people who feel aggrieved. Part of Crawford’s job is to maintain relationships with the higher-ups at PSA 7, where he attends monthly community meetings, usually accompanied by a group of older residents who want to see more police around the building. Until recently, there was an inspector at the PSA who would arrange meetings with individual patrol officers after residents—or Crawford, on their behalf—complained of a negative interaction. The meetings didn’t solve the larger problems, Crawford says, but he saw them as a suggestion that it’s possible to build a different kind of relationship between officers and young people who often treat each other like enemies. “It teaches young people to solve problems in a positive way,” he says.

***

Over the past three decades, policing in New York City has been pulled between two competing theories, each defined by its approach to a single, built-in tension: Policing is an inherently authoritarian act. But police authority is most effective when it’s considered legitimate by the people being policed. In a review of 13 studies on attitudes toward the police, conducted over a span of eight years, researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice found a consistent conclusion that spanned age, race and neighborhood: People are more likely to obey the law when they think law enforcers are legitimate. And the primary determinate of legitimacy is not success in fighting crime, but whether or not people think thepolice are fair. John Jay Professor David Kennedy, the author of Don’t Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America, puts it like this: “When the face of the law is ugly, the law’s ugly. When the law’s ugly, the things the law stands for are undercut… When the law’s ugly, people don’t go to the law when they need help. People handle things on their own.”

Police can prevent and solve a certain percentage of crimes simply by cracking down—by being present on the street in overwhelming numbers and by searching members of the demographics groups most likely to be carrying guns. But to do much of their work, officers need the help of residents who know where crime is taking place and who’s committing it. “Good police work involves building relationships with people in communities,” says Paul Butler, a Georgetown University professor and former prosecutor for the Department of Justice. “You gather intelligence by talking to people in the neighborhood… Stop-and-frisk makes people not want to cooperate with the police.

“If you’re a grandmother, you don’t like the dope boys on the corner. You want them gone. But you also hear your grandson talk about how he can’t walk home without being pushed against a wall,” Butler adds. “The police need friends. They’re making enemies.”

The NYPD began its formal engagement with the concept of community partnerships in the 1980s, after what had been a disastrous decade for policing in the city. A series of major corruption scandals had left the department discredited and divided, serious crime had spiked by 40 percent and a municipal fiscal crisis had gutted the force of more than a third of its personnel. When the money came to rehire that personnel (12,000 new officers between 1980 and 1984), the city commissioned the Vera Institute of Justice to assess how the expanded force could best be deployed. The collaboration led the NYPD to a theory known broadly as Community Policing, which would grow, for a short time, to define the predominant philosophy of the department leadership.

Its premise was that police work is more effective when it includes community residents and institutions in both identifying and solving a neighborhood’s most pressing problems. Under the city’s Community Patrol Officer Program, officers were assigned to neighborhood beats long-term, with the primary tasks of building relationships and addressing qualityof-life concerns. As part of an evaluation of the pilot version of the program, one officer described the difference between his new assignment and his old one: “Normally if you were in a store for half an hour talking to somebody, you’re goofing off. Now if you’re in a store for half an hour, it’s considered a positive aspect of the job. You met the owner, you were talking to some of the people who work there. When someone comes out of there at the end of the day drinking beers and you walk up to him and call him by name, and say, ‘Listen José, no cerveza on the street,’ the guy now says ‘Okay, okay,’ and shakes my hand.”

Until the mid-1990s, NYCHA properties were policed according to similar principles—not by the NYPD but by a separate force operated by the Housing Authority. Officers were stationed at particular developments for years, sometimes decades—with the result, residents say, that they were integrated into communities in ways that would be inconceivable now. Joseph Garber, who’s lived in NYCHA housing since 1957, remembered that his building’s police unit kept a record room with the names of residents on index cards. If someone was locked out of their apartment, says Garber, they could go to the record room, show ID and an officer would open their apartment door. Erik Crawford says that when he was growing up, the officers assigned to Davidson played basketball with kids at the development’s community center once a week. “They’d stop in and see how you’re doing, show interest in someone’s homework,” he says. “We didn’t know it was part of their job.”

But the years of New York City’s experiment with Community Policing were also characterized by a massive spike in violent crime, largely due to the drug trade, and endemic corruption throughout the ranks of the NYPD, which continued to be plagued by misconduct scandals. In the early 1990s, the department went through another major reorganization when newly elected Mayor Rudy Giuliani named Bill Bratton as its commissioner.

Bratton brought “Broken Windows” policing to New York City, implementing a strategy that would help define law enforcement for the next two decades. The idea was that acts of disorder—what have come to be known as quality of life offenses—have a contagious effect on communities, leading to social destabilization and more serious crime. Curb disorder, the theory goes, and you can make a significant dent in problems like drug dealing and violence.

In a 2002 essay on policing and youth violence, Jeffrey Fagan (the same professor who analyzed data in the current trespass arrest lawsuit) makes the point that Broken Windows originated as a Community Policing practice. In its original iteration, Broken Windows suggests that police should work intensively with law-abiding citizens to identify disorder and bring stability back to public places. That work depends on goodwill—something police can’t maintain if too many people in a community experience them as draconian or unjust.

In New York City, Fagan argues, the premise of Broken Windows was distorted by Giuliani’s signature zero-tolerance policies, which required patrol officers to crack down on low-level crimes, arresting and detaining tens of thousands of people each year for infractions as minor as graffiti and fare beating.

More than ever before, those arrests were concentrated in particular areas of the city: In the mid-1990s, the NYPD developed its CompStat system for mapping crime statistics, and for using near-real-time data to target police resources to “hotspot” locations—which were mostly low-income, black and Latino neighborhoods. Guided by CompStat, the NYPD sent large numbers of officers to aggressively enforce the law, often through the practice of stop-and-frisk. Arrests went way up (23 percent between 1993 and 1996, including a 40 percent jump in misdemeanor arrests), as did citizen complaints against the police (60 percent between 1992 and 1996). At the same time, crack use diminished, the drug trade moved largely indoors and murders and robberies went way down, with numbers nose-diving through the 1990s and 2000s.

All of which leaves New York City with the questions at the heart of its current ideology and policy wars: Did zero-tolerance policing cause the city’s drop in crime, saving thousands of lives, or was the decrease a return to normalcy after the devastating crime waves, drug epidemics and economic turmoil of the seventies and eighties? To the extent that strategies like stop-and-frisk are effective in preventing violence, do they nullify themselves by alienating communities from the police, ensuring that law-abiding residents won’t work with the NYPD? What is the cost to black and Latino children subject to the routine humiliation of aggressive, preventionoriented policing—and its attendant message that their liberties are valued less than those of other people? What is the cost to the rest of us?

***

David Kennedy, the strategist behind violence reduction tactics credited with slashing gun crime in cities like Boston and Washington, D.C., writes that zero tolerance is “a bumper sticker, not a strategy. New York police officers still exercised a great deal of discretion; no department could arrest everybody for every crime they were committing, or it would grind to a halt within an hour of hitting the streets.”

The reality is that the NYPD continues to invest resources into programs that fall under the rubric of Community Policing. Officers in the Housing Bureau participate in carnivals, bowling trips and toy drives organized by NYCHA community centers, as well as sports and afterschool programs. Last year, NYCHA held four overnight campouts for young residents, led in part by housing police. The NYPD’s Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program sends officers to the homes of young public housing residents who’ve previously been arrested for robbery, connecting them (and their family members) to services like drug treatment and job training.

The purpose of those efforts is to build relationships. Ideally, residents of the city’s hardest-hit, highest-crime neighborhoods should be able to help the police target the small number of people who cause most of the real damage, says the Reverend Ruben Austria, executive director of Community Connections for Youth. Austria’s program partners with the city’s probation department to work with kids in the Bronx who’ve been arrested and are at risk of sinking deeper into the juvenile justice system.

“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 Austria. “If the police were to go in and bust that person, the community would probably celebrate.”

In many neighborhoods, the foundations of those relationships already exist, says Austria. But they happen locally, where they’ve been negotiated between activists who work with young people on the street and their local precinct commanders—not because they are a priority of the NYPD or the city. “Working relationships happen at the community level a lot,” he says. “It may not be Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. There’s a whole other set of community leaders who are working hard, but nobody’s talking to them at the [NYPD’s] administrative level. Precincts don’t have the support of their own leadership for having real partnerships with community leaders.”

The city’s annual policing budget attests to Austria’s argument: The NYPD’s Community Affairs Bureau—the sole division responsible for fostering positive relationships—is allocated $12.8 million per year. That’s a somewhat bigger budget than the mounted division’s ($8.2 million), but just two-thirds that of the property clerk’s division ($18 million), and smaller than nearly every individual precinct. It’s less than half of one percent of the total $4.5 billion police department budget.

The Reverend Vernon Williams is a pastor whose Perfect Peace Ministry works with young people in Harlem. Williams, who spent much of his own youth selling heroin and serving time in prison, intervenes in conflicts between street crews, sometimes by walking the street and inserting himself physically into altercations. Williams says he doesn’t have a simple, blanket policy against stop-and-frisk. “If someone had searched the boy who shot Lloyd Morgan,” he says, referring to the four-year-old who was killed in the playground of a Bronx public housing complex in July, “he’d be alive today.” In August, an NYPD officer was shot in the legs when he confronted an armed 23-year-old in Queens. “Let’s say a police officer didn’t intervene with that young man,” says Williams. “Would there be another Lloyd this morning?”

Williams is in frequent contact with the precinct commands in his neighborhood, sometimes to negotiate the release of a young person whom he believes shouldn’t have been arrested, sometimes to mediate a particularly contentious situation between young people and the police. He describes a meeting between one Harlem street crew and the NYPD’s 32nd precinct. Members of the crew had been complaining that the police were harassing them; police said the crew was getting out of control, bringing heat on itself. No formal agreement came out of the meeting, but Williams says it cooled things off to let young people and the police communicate face-to-face, away from the super-charged environment of the streets.

Iesha Sekou, the director of another small organization that works intensively with young people in Harlem, says those kinds of interactions are crucial for young men and women who are inclined to see police as their enemy. Sekou’s program, Street Corner Resources, invites African-American and Latino police officers to speak at workshops with young people from the neighborhood. “They tell stories about times when they—even as police officers—have been stopped or searched by other officers,” says Sekou. “It gives the young people an opportunity to relate to the officers, which is important. We need to have relationships with the police. We need to be able to call them when we need help.”

Within the NYPD’s housing police, precincts still rely on resident input to identify quality-of-life problems on NYCHA properties. At a recent Community Council meeting in Harlem, Captain Chris Morello, the amiable, clean-cut commanding officer of Police Service Area 5, spent an hour going over crime trends and police activity with an audience of about 50 residents from the neighborhood’s public housing developments. When Morello announced the promotion of  one community affairs officer, the room gave her a standing ovation. Later, residents reported particular nuisances: An elderly woman complained about a group of young men who drink and smoke weed in the courtyard outside her apartment. Another reported that people were throwing bottles and cans out of a window in her complex. Morello asked them both to stay so he could get more information.

True to the original theory of Broken Windows, housing police capitalize on their relationships with residents to investigate and fight bigger crimes. Just a week before the meeting, PSA 5 had worked with the NYPD’s narcotics bureau to take out a ring of drug dealers operating in the Lincoln Houses, arresting 17 people during a nighttime raid. Even in the heat of a conversation with a reporter about what they saw as police harassment of young men from the development, residents talked about the bust as a legitimate and welcome police operation. “It should clear things up for a while and give us a break,” said Keith Massey, the Resident Watch supervisor.

But no one expects that break to last for long. One young resident, a dean’s list college student and youth mentor, said he knows of another drug ring operating out of his neighbor’s apartment upstairs. He’d like to make a report, he says. “But I don’t trust the police. They’re like an invading force. If you live in Iraq, do you report to Blackwater?”

The problem, says Chris Watler, who directs the Harlem Community Justice Center, a neighborhood-based court that also runs programs for high-risk youth, is not that the police department’s work to build community relationships is insignificant or doesn’t matter; it’s that those efforts are dwarfed, in too many people’s daily experience, by the patrol strategies they meet on the street. And as long as that’s true, the police will undermine their chances at building goodwill with the people who experience crime most.

“When there’s a shooting, community affairs officers often really do have a plug-in to leaders in the community. They can be a real force for calm and discussion, and that’s important,” says Watler. “But that’s very separate from what happens on patrol, which is very alienating. It makes you feel as if your government doesn’t work for you. It works against you.”

Dominick Walters, a 21-year-old from the Bronx who’s been arrested twice for trespassing—once in the building next door to the one he’s lived in since he was 5—put 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.”

***

In its most public iterations, the city’s policing debate has often been reduced to its crudest terms: Either you’re for stopand-frisk or you’re tolerant of crime. You don’t care about the Constitutional rights of young black and Latino men, or you don’t care if they die. This summer, Commissioner Kelly provoked an irate response from community activists when he accused them of being passive on killings in minority neighborhoods. “Many of them will speak out about stop-and-frisk” but are “shockingly silent when it comes to the level of violence right in their own communities,” he said. “Ninetysix percent of our shooting victims are people of color, yet these community leaders are not speaking out about that... I’d like to see some political outcry.”

Brooklyn City Council member Jumaane Williams responded the next day: “I am outraged at the presumptuous and patently false comments of Commissioner Kelly, which directly insult communities like mine, which are grieving for our lost and trying to save our young people every day,” he said. “Maybe he’d like to come with me when I go to the families of the victims just hours after they’ve lost a son and see just how silent I am.”

It’s the needs of those families, says Ruben Austria of Community Connections for Youth, that get ignored when the city engages in reductive arguments over policing. It is possible to be aggressive on crime while respecting the rights of people in high-crime places, Austria argues—but that balance requires real partnerships with communities. Collaboration can’t be a precinct-by-precinct project; it needs buy-in and commitment from the city and the NYPD at their upper levels of administration.

Over the past three years, one example of collaboration has been happening in an unlikely place: Not long before the lawsuit on trespassing arrests was filed, NYCHA called together a task force on safety and policing in its developments, made up of high-level officials from the housing authority and the NYPD, and tenant representatives from the Citywide Council of Presidents.

The task force met regularly for more than a year to discuss problems and potential solutions, many of them in direct response to tenants’ complaints about their treatment at the hands of the police. Brian Clarke, a vice-president of operations at NYCHA, says that the process was unprecedented. “The number one thing was getting all the folks together: Duly elected resident leadership, representing their fellow residents, meeting with the NYPD and telling us what we needed to improve on,” he says. “I’ve been here 16 years and I haven’t seen anything like this happen.”

The task force negotiated two changes to the NYPD’s policy on trespass arrests, based on tenants’ charges of harassment and disrespect: First, new language in the NYPD’s Patrol Guide clarified that an officer must have reasonable suspicion to stop a suspected trespasser—in other words, officers do not have the right to question anyone they encounter during a patrol. Second, if an officer decides that a person doesn’t belong in the building, he or she may tell the person to leave, rather than issuing a summons or making an arrest.

The city brought the Patrol Guide revisions to court, as part of its defense against the trespass lawsuit. The plaintiffs’ attorneys dismissed the changes as meaningless, saying that not only were they ignored in everyday practice, but that they weren’t nearly good enough to bring the NYPD into compliance with the law. Since the guide still fails to specify what counts as reasonable suspicion, the lawyers argued, it leaves far too much discretion to individual officers, who can’t possibly know the difference between a trespasser and a legitimate resident or visitor on sight. The judge was persuaded and the city’s argument was dismissed.

But some of the policing numbers turned over by the city suggest at least the possibility of a different story: Between 2009 and 2011—the period after the Patrol Guide was revised and police were trained on the changes—trespassing stops in public housing dropped by almost 60 percent. Last year, public housing accounted for just under a third of the city’s total trespassing stops—still an outsized proportion, but a significant drop from the 50 percent they had represented in preceding years.

There’s no evidence that cutting down on trespass stops tied the police department’s hands when it came to enforcement. During the same period, there was a much smaller drop in stops made for other reasons—and yet, the total number of arrests on public housing properties barely declined at all.

Policing is too complicated to draw a straight line of causeand-effect from training policies to stop rates—and in any case, NYCHA residents were still subject to significantly disproportionate rates of police enforcement. The big-picture problems, as defined by residents like Kis Ravelin and Erik Crawford, were not solved. But in the area that had been negotiated between NYCHA tenants and the police—where department leadership had sat down to hear residents’ concerns and collaborate on resolving them—the data indicates that there may have been meaningful change. In the polarized context of New York City policing, that’s no small thing to say.

Reginald Bowman is a long-time tenant activist, the current president of the Citywide Council of Presidents, and the person responsible for delivering the 2009 letter to Ray Kelly comparing public housing to penal colonies. To Bowman, the task force represents hope for a way forward. “Is the problem solved?” he asks. “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… Sometimes you don’t need a whole bunch of publicity and noise to solve a problem. You need to roll up your sleeves and sit down at the table and work out the problem. It doesn’t have to be news. There doesn’t have to be a press conference.”

In all likelihood, as New York gets closer to its next round of mayoral and City Council elections, there will be many press conferences about policing strategies. The city is currently entangled in three class-action lawsuits challenging its use both of stop-and-frisk on the street and of trespass arrests in residential buildings. The issue is trickling down to individual cases, as well: In two high-profile decisions this summer, Manhattan appeals court judges overturned the weapons convictions of teenagers who’d been stopped and searched without legally sufficient cause. The City Council is currently considering bills that would not only constrain police use of stop-and-frisk, but set up a new, independent monitor for the police department.

Whatever the views of the next mayor and police commissioner, their administration will have little choice but to change its policies on stops. How much that change means, will depend on whether they also reinvest in partnerships with the people their policies impact most. “The NYPD can’t only work with people who say ‘all police are heroes,’” says Austria. “You have to be willing to work with people who are also going to hold you accountable when you’re wrong. That makes for a challenging partnership, but that’s what real partnership is.”

 

Social Workers at the Kitchen Table: Can Evidence-based Juvenile Justice Services Change Child Welfare?

Patrice Boyce is one of the New York Foundling’s newest therapists and she is struggling. A neatly dressed young woman with wavy hair and a thoughtful manner, she is having trouble staying sympathetic toward a mother on her caseload. Patrice’s job is to keep this woman’s children out of foster care by using a specialized form of in-home family therapy—without taking sides between family members. That’s proving difficult. “Some sessions it’s hard for the mom to sit down. She asked me to just talk to the kids, ‘Fix the kids, just deal with the kids. I don’t want to be a part of this,’” Patrice tells her supervisor and another therapist in a windowless room of the nonprofit New York Foundling. She looks shell-shocked. “I feel like she doesn’t even want to sit with the kids.” The mother has four children, but only the two youngest, a girl and a boy, still live at home. The boy is 10, the girl just shy of 13. Each spent two years in foster care and both are hungry for attention. The oldest especially likes to follow Patrice around the apartment showing her things, like the dress she wants to wear to a party.

The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) brought in New York Foundling to help this family after the agency received complaints that the mother had left the two children alone at night while she went out drinking. Recently, hostilities escalated. The 12-year-old threatened to kill everyone in the house, Patrice says. The mother attacked her, scratching her eye. ACS workers, who are still investigating the family, called an emergency conference. At the conference, Patrice found it difficult to see the girl with her eye damaged and to hear the mother repeatedly call her daughter a bitch. It was especially painful to watch the young girl react: She slouched and stared into the distance, eventually falling asleep right there at the table.

“What do you think that’s about for Mom?” asks Marta Anderson-Winchell, her supervisor, who has been practicing this particular method of therapy for over two years. Like Patrice, Marta is not long out of social work school and still in her twenties.

Patrice stays silent, so Marta offers a suggestion: “The two youngest were in foster care. The two oldest didn’t make it to 18 before they’re out of the house. What I’m hearing is the system telling her, ‘You are a bad mother.’ The kids are saying, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ That’s a lot of guilt and anger for the mom.”

“If I could see more positive it would help me work with her better,” says Patrice. “The youngest kid is on SSI. The mom doesn’t want that kid going anywhere because she says that’s her money. I feel like on some level that’s a major motivator for her to have the kids around.”

“If we think about a parent who only wants money, who wants the kids because of the paycheck, that’s negative,” says Marta. “How to reframe that? Even if you don’t believe it, try to find the noble intent.”

Patrice is quiet a long time before answering. “I’m having a hard time with that,” she finally says.

Patrice and Marta are therapists in a new pilot project that aims to keep teenagers out of foster care and safe at home by using what ACS loosely calls “evidence-based” services—forms of therapy that have been studied and deemed effective in the juvenile justice world, where most originated, but are in fact relatively new to child welfare, where ACS plans to now use them.

Most are a form of hurried-up family therapy with a focus on changing family members’ behavior and helping them to communicate better with one another. Where many therapies require parents to drag their kids to a remote office for an indefinite number of visits, these sessions unfold in the home for intense, short-term interventions. Children’s Services Commissioner Ron Richter has described them as getting a knock at the door “from a social worker who is in your face, at the kitchen table, being part of your life…they come in like a tornado…and they help the parent to learn how to get control, and they make it very clear to the teen that their parent is the parent.”

This pilot is part of the Administration for Children’s Services’ larger plan to rely more heavily on practices that have been shown to reap results. In the coming months alone, ACS plans to spend $22 million to provide short-term therapies to work with 3,000 families each year, in a targeted effort to reduce the number of children 12 years old and older placed in foster care. These older boys and girls account for more than one-third of all cases investigated by child protective services, and more than one-third of the young people placed in the city’s foster care system each year.

Many of these young people eventually “age out” of foster care to life on their own—something that is associated with high rates of homelessness, unemployment, and incarceration. Over the years, ACS has tried many approaches to help better prepare teens for life after care—from teaching classes geared toward preparing them for life on their own to encouraging families to adopt teenagers. Now, officials are trying a more direct approach: keeping teens out of foster care in the first place.

“We believe that by making this financial commitment to families and teenagers… we will empower parents to take care of their teenagers,” says Richter.

Richter points out that, in the city’s juvenile justice system, these therapies have helped about 1,000 young lawbreakers stay at home with their families instead of being sent to juvenile correctional facilities. A smattering of foster care agencies in New York City have already begun using such programs in their child welfare work. But strictly defined, the therapy models in which ACS is investing are not truly evidence-based when used with children on the brink of entering foster care. Using these services on a large scale with families involved in the foster care system is a largely uncharted terrain, one that is only beginning to be evaluated in a systematic way. It’s not yet clear how effective they will be at ensuring child welfare’s main goal—keeping kids safe.

Nonetheless, using services that have been studied is the next wave of child welfare, and many in the field are cautiously enthusiastic. “In the world of government [funding], everything is tied to outcomes,” says Citizens’ Committee for Children’s Executive Director Jennifer March-Joly, who notes that if family support programs are challenged to demonstrate their effectiveness, that will only strengthen their case for funding and potentially attract more money to the field.

“We have a responsibility as a field to provide our young people and families with interventions that work. If there is a better way of providing services, I think that we need to be open to exploring that,” says Sister Paulette LoMonaco, executive director of Good Shepherd Services.

For child welfare workers willing to give them a try, these models offer something entirely new, and valuable: a systematic, finite, and supported way of approaching, thinking, and talking about their work with families. It’s one with concrete and measurable goals, clearly defined strategies to reach those goals, and tons of support. Evidence-based interventions demand a lot of their caseworkers, requiring them to view all of the individuals on their caseloads in the most positive light possible, and, when things aren’t going well, to consider themselves, not just the families they work with, responsible. Ultimately, they can provide professionals in child welfare a greater sense of control and efficacy. In the murky, hard-to assess, high-turnover business of helping families in crisis, this is no small feat.

***

At its most crude, the world of evidence-based practice is a big business steeped in its own particular jargon and philosophy, beginning with the term “evidence-based” itself and all its scientific associations. Indeed, “evidence-based” is the social science field’s shorthand for a model has been demonstrated, through high-quality, quantitative evaluation research, both effective and replicable.

The models ACS plans to use were developed and researched at universities and research institutes, and their marketing and dissemination is overseen by academically trained teams at “national purveyor organizations,” as they are called in the business. Most are for-profit corporations, many of them doing millions of dollars in business each year.

Purchasing one of these models carries a steep price tag. FFT Inc., the firm that created and owns the Family Functional Therapy model, charges about $61,000 to train and oversee a team of therapists capable of serving 50 families at a time—and that does not include the cost of travel to or from Seattle for training with consultants.

In New York, ACS has created model budgets that estimate that between 9 and 13 percent of the total cost of these programs will be spent on fees paid to the purveyor organizations, rather than in direct services. That cost includes training, manuals, technical assistance and copious staff oversight conducted by consultants.

For most of these therapies, the first year an organization uses them is the most expensive. As an organization becomes more proficient and needs less support, the costs go down. The model developers continue providing oversight and charging a fee for as long as an organization uses the model, something the developers say is vital to using their models with “fidelity” to a proven approach. “There is consistent quality assurance built into the model, so you don’t just have the family and the provider working together. You also have a layer of integrity from the model developer that you pay for, which makes these models cost more,” explains Commissioner Richter.

The models have what some in the business call a “big bang” effect. Most are short, intensive treatments targeted for families and children who meet a specific profile—say, lawbreaking teenagers with substance abuse issues, or the parents of children with medical issues. They move families in and out of their programs as quickly as possible, following a philosophy that they not make families dependent on services. For organizations like ACS, this is appealing not just for its ideological stance: Evidence-based programs have the potential to serve more families each year than traditional social services.

Last winter, at an ACS-hosted, acronym-heavy “evidence-based open house,” directors of dozens of the city’s child welfare nonprofits learned about various evidence-based models from salesmen and women who had PhDs, Power Point presentations and a flair for public speaking. The experts had traveled from distant cities to ACS’ Children’s Center on Manhattan’s east side to take turns endorsing their particular flavor of a scientifically studied program. Richter compared the daylong conference to a dental convention where attendees chose their “particular brand of toothpaste.”

“In every family that’s in trouble there’s a sense of negativity and hopelessness,” Joan Muir of the University of Miami told the crowded auditorium. “How do you get motivation? How do you get that shift?” she asked—and then she explained how the model she represented—Brief Strategic Family Therapy—does exactly that.

As the panelists presented their programs, and as therapists and caseworkers shared their experiences using the models, and as ACS leaders outlined plans to begin converting “unproven” programs to ones that had been tested, deemed effective, and driven by what Lisa Shankweiler of New York Foundling called “data points” as opposed to what “feels right,” there was, among many, a sense of possibility. It may have been similar to what those in the juvenile justice world felt in the late 1990s when they first heard there were therapies proven to help lawbreaking teenagers get back on track.

“It was a really exciting time,” remembers Clay Yeager, who then headed Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system. “I came out of a 20-year history in juvenile justice where we were all just led to believe that there was nothing we could do, that nothing worked, and that juvenile justice systems especially were stuck in this role of managing kids and counting the days until kids turned 18, because we didn’t believe there was much to do to change them. For me, it was a godsend that there were science and data to say we could do this stuff differently.”

Yeager has since built his career around evidence-based services as a former head of Nurse Family Partnership and now as a consultant at Evidence Based Associates, which helps organizations and jurisdictions use these interventions. The models most prominent when Yeager worked in juvenile justice are among those ACS hopes can now stop thousands of teenagers from entering foster care, including Family Functional Therapy (FFT) and Multisystemic Therapy (MST). Both emerged from what Keller Strother, president of MST Services, calls a knowledge base of decades of research around delinquency and drug use, starting with the recognition that children are part of an ecology, with many influences affecting them, including their families, peers, and communities, all of which need to be addressed when working with young people who have committed crimes.

Many forms of therapy build from the premise that there are deep, psychological issues affecting behavior that must be explored before they will resolve, but these evidence-based models focus on action. They use a system of rewards and consequences to teach parents and children skills that can improve family dynamics and change behavior in measurable ways. “The youth is not seen fundamentally as the problem, their behavior is the problem. But it’s not something that is intractable and unchangeable,” says Strother. “Progress is grounded in what people do.”

They all start with the assumption that people are fundamentally good, and have good intentions—that kids are not bad or cruel by design, that parents are not sadistic or abusive or neglectful by nature, that parents are wired to love their kids and their kids are wired to love them back. “Parents don’t intend to raise criminals, even if a parent himself is a criminal,” says Strother. Even a mother like the one on Patrice’s caseload, who claims she wants her son for the disability money the boy brings in, wants deep down what all good parents want—the best for her children, to protect them from harm. It is this premise that makes the models particularly powerful for families that have already burned through a plethora of services and parenting classes and therapists and caseworkers before arriving at a place where they no longer believe anything can change. It is also what makes them particularly appealing for the therapists who use them.

“It feels like actual casework,” Katie Stoehr, senior vice president for performance, strategy, and advocacy at Graham Windham, told the audience at ACS’ open house. “It’s the reason we all went into this field.”

***

Soft-spoken, intense, and often spotted wearing motorcycle boots, Dr. Sylvia Rowlands is a true believer in the power of evidence-based services. Through her eyes, just about any major problem a family might face is ripe for therapy. Take a mom who can’t afford daycare, so she leaves her kids home alone while she works. This mother’s problem is not about just money, Rowlands insists. It’s about how she makes decisions about what is and isn’t safe, and how she nurtures or neglects relationships with relatives or even systems that could help her out. “There are all these decisions and all these relationships that have or have not deteriorated over time, that you have to check and fix,” she says.

Rowlands is assistant executive director of evidence-based community programs at New York Foundling, which has the city’s largest, most dizzying array of evidence-based programs.She’s one of the visionaries who first imagined using home-based therapeutic services designed for young delinquents to keep children out of foster care instead. To some, it might not seem an obvious fit: Kids who may have been abused or neglected are, for the most part, not committing crimes. But more than 80 percent of the teens that New York Foundling worked with in its evidence-based program for young delinquents also had some sort of involvement with foster care, and Rowlands has seen how these services have allowed many of them to stay at home and out of trouble.

About seven years ago, Rowlands and her colleagues at Foundling worked with a researcher to adapt the evidence-based Family Functional Therapy (FFT) program, designed for the families of young delinquents, to prevent foster care placement in families stretched to the breaking point. The FFT model had been used successfully in child welfare in Europe, where the juvenile justice and child welfare system coexist, and they hoped they could make it work in New York City as well.

Most caseworkers who provide family support services follow no single model as they counsel parents and cobble together services. But these workers must complete specific tasks and meet regulations set by the state, such as visiting with each family twice each month, with at least one visit happening in the home while caseworkers make sure all the children are safe. Sometimes these “general preventive” caseworkers, as the city calls them, work with families for as long as a year and a half, although over the past few years ACS officials have pressured them to close cases within a year.

Foundling’s new preventive model—which FFT, Inc. clunkily named Functional Family Therapy Child Welfare, or FFT-CW—takes a radically different approach. Supervisors push caseworkers to close cases in six months or less. “Everything is quicker and more intense because you do it in half the time or a third of the time,” says Rowlands, who calls it “cute” when asked about caseworkers who want to spend more time working with a family. “We have some of those people who find it really hard to close a family in four months. They’ll say, ‘I want to extend, it isn’t perfect yet.’” Rowland’s firm response? “No, no, no. Close it.”

When they are assigned a new family, therapists must meet with them three times in 10 days. For system-wary parents who have already seen more than their fair share of caseworkers, Rowlands says, this fast, concentrated pace sets a tone right from the start that the program will be unlike anything they’ve experienced before.

Therapists prime families to believe things can and will improve. Some families have primarily concrete needs—they are facing eviction, for example, or struggling with mounting debts—and the therapists can help address them. For families with more complex needs, like domestic violence, therapists begin what they call the “behavior change” phase, where they work with family members around specific skills, like showing a mother who nags her teenage daughter how to keep requests short and concise, so the daughter doesn’t tune her out, and teaching the daughter to echo back what her mother says, so the mom feels heard.

Eventually the therapists help families prepare for situations where they might relapse, like a fast-approaching date in Family Court.

Therapists work in teams that meet with each other every week for over three hours. Together, they discuss their work, update each other on how their families are doing, congratulate each other on their successes, share ideas and brainstorm how to, say, encourage a teenage girl to go to school. If the often-introspective, searching tone of these meetings feels a little like group therapy itself, it is by design. “These models are built around the team working through these problems. Everything is in the context of the group. That’s what the model is,” says Rowlands.

“It’s not my genius. It’s a 30-year-old genius that has been proven to work everywhere,” she says. “That’s what the model does. That’s what the research says it does. That’s what it’s designed to do.”

***

Marta is young, has no children of her own, and, unlike most of the families she works with, white. Just over two years ago, when she was a general preventive caseworker at New York Foundling, most of her days involved trying to get the 10 to 12 families on her caseload to participate in services—to go to therapy, for example, or take parenting classes. When parents refused, Marta was at a loss.

Now a supervisor of FFT-CW, where therapists work with about the same number of families as other city preventive workers, Marta says the model gives her a clear approach and a lot of support—two things she previously craved. “This is focused and purposeful and incredibly highly supervised, and I have a lot more accountability,” she says.

Rather than label families who won’t participate in the program as “resistant”—a term commonly used by child welfare caseworkers—she must now look at what she could do differently herself. “FFT has a philosophy that we can help families make these changes. Our job is to keep these families together, and the therapist is held responsible for that,” says Marta.

Parts of the model are like nothing Marta learned in social work school. Asking lots of questions, for instance—a key tenet of good social work practice—is not part of the FFT-CW repertoire. Instead, therapists describe things for their clients. Patrice, who Marta supervises, explained to one family that the father’s drinking is how he copes with the unexplained death of his 2-month-old son. The mother and two children had gone to therapy to help them deal with the infant’s death, but the father had not. As his drinking increased, so did his remoteness and anger. Now he and his wife rarely interacted. Patrice pointed out the specific sadness behind his drinking. She also helped the family see themselves in a more hopeful light, identifying an important strength of theirs: the parents had been married for 13 years and had chosen to stick together no matter what, no matter that they had lost a child.“They liked that theme,” Patrice told Marta.

Marta has seen how this type of “reframing,” as FFT calls it—the identifying of good intentions behind troublesome behavior—gives even those families who have been told over and over what they are doing wrong a chance to see things differently. This is powerful stuff, says Marta. It motivates family members to do the hard work necessary to, say, start counting drinks each night. It also motivates the therapists who work with them.

Marta’s team has fought to take cases from ACS that would have otherwise been shifted to the foster care docket—in one case a teenage boy slept in the same bed as his mother and a caseworker thought they were too physically affectionate. But despite working in highly volatile family situations, Marta, when interviewed last spring, could not recall a single time when she or one of the therapists she supervises has made a report to the state of suspected abuse or neglect. And neither Marta nor Rowlands could remember a time when an FFT-CW therapist thought a child should be placed in foster care. “It’s not that we won’t do it,” said Rowlands. “It’s just that in several years in northern Manhattan we haven’t had an occasion where we’ve said ‘You need to remove those kids.’ We don’t believe that that’s a good thing to do to kids, so at all cost we’re going to try to keep that kid in the community.”

Sometimes this means finding relatives willing to informally take children in. “We may build supports where a kid will move out of Mom’s house for a minute and we will work with Mom,” says Rowlands.

In one case where they suspected a boy was being sexually abused in his home, instead of recommending he move to a foster home, therapists sent him to live with his grandmother while they figured out what was going on and kept ACS informed of their findings. Ultimately, says Rowlands, they “removed the risk”—meaning they removed the parent who was abusing him—“and the kid came back home.”

If this seems like a lot to accomplish in six months or less, Rowlands insists “the families walk away doing beautifully.”

Rowlands says that an internal evaluation of FFT-CW outcomes was so promising it prompted Foundling to begin training all of its preventive caseworkers to use the model. Two researchers are now studying the program systematically. A sampling of data from ACS provides evidence that FFT-CW is indeed closing cases at a quick pace while also keeping children out of foster care: Citywide, about 80 percent of all general preventive cases opened between April and September 2010 received more than six months of services, but for Foundling’s FFT-CW team, 64 percent of its cases received six months or fewer of services. Equally significant, 78 percent of their cases that closed during a three-month evaluation period did so because the family had progressed toward their goals. Citywide, only about 45 percent were closed for this reason. None of Foundling’s families went into foster care during that time.

The numbers also suggest the program is effective at getting families involved right from the start: Citywide, about 44 percent of families offered preventive services refused to participate, while only 29 percent of families offered FFTCW rejected the therapy.

It can feel almost like a personal shortcoming when a case slips through one of the therapist’s hands, like the teen who returned home after spending three years in a juvenile correction center only to be kicked out by his mother.

“The kid is staying with his girlfriend, then Covenant House, and most likely foster care. The mom is not letting him back in the house,” Marta told her team of therapists. Marta believes she botched things when she indulged the mother’s wishes to focus only on the future and the positive. If she could turn back time, Marta says, she would insist that the mother and son look closely at the problems they’d been having before his arrest. Then, maybe they’d be better prepared to handle the argument that caused the son to storm out of their apartment, leaving the front door open with his younger brother still home, and the mother to vow that she would never let him live there again.

“What I missed was that was a honeymoon phase,” Marta says. “I let sessions stay on service, but I didn’t pull out the negativity and blame, so I set up the family to have a relapse.”

“He’s a sweet kid and Mom just kind of turned on him,” she adds. “I tried. I just didn’t try hard enough. It hurts to lose one. God knows where he’s going to end up without a family.”

***

In January 2012, as part of its pilot project, ACS began sending teenagers on the verge of entering foster care to Foundling’s Manhattan FFT-CW therapists as well as a Bronx program run by the nonprofit Children’s Village for the families of teens with substance abuse issues. If not for these programs, a number of these teens would have gone to foster homes instead, says Rowlands. ACS officials hope to eventually send thousands more families with adolescents to similar evidence-based therapies. But of the five models ACS proposes to use for this expansion, not one is evidence-based for use in child welfare, and only two have been formally adapted for families involved with the foster care system—FFT-CW being one of them. Of those two, only one has published any findings about its effectiveness. Whether or not this is a problem depends on who you ask.

Richard Barth, a researcher at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, has found that most urban teenagers enter foster care not because they are suspected of being abused or neglected, but because of their own behavior, like running away, skipping school, or selling drugs. In his opinion, this makes them a good match for programs designed to help juvenile delinquents. “The idea of child welfare is to help kids when parents are inadequate, but many parents of adolescents can’t figure out how to parent them,” explains Barth.

But others say that filling programs designed for kids who have been found guilty of committing crimes with teenagers who have come to the attention of child protective workers is a lot like using a medication proven to help with heart disease for headaches. It might not work.

“This is an example of really good programs that could very well fail because we made a broad leap that because they were successful with juvenile justice kids that they will be equally successful with teenage child welfare kids,” says Yeager of Evidence Based Associates. “Until the research plays it out, I would be very reluctant to support widespread adoption of these programs.”

Strother of MST Services agrees. “If you are going to use one of these therapies in a way they haven’t been used before, the attitude needs to be one of skepticism. Our advice is that that just fundamentally won’t work,” he told Child Welfare Watch last spring.

Juvenile justice focuses on ensuring public safety and getting lawbreaking teenagers on more hope-filled life paths. Child welfare, on the other hand, is all about the safety of children. Strother believes these differing goals make programs designed for juvenile delinquents an essential “mismatch” for child welfare.

With keeping teenagers out of foster care comes an urgency to address something the evidence-based programs for juvenile delinquents are not built for: ensuring the safety not only of teens, but of the teens’ siblings, as well. It is not yet known how well these programs can do that.

“These models are [designed] to create behavior change in a single identified youth. It’s not clear from a model perspective how a safety plan for a younger sibling would emerge out of a treatment targeted to addressing substance abuse issues,” says Strother.

Those already using the evidence-based models in child welfare insist they have found ample ways to account for children’s safety. Rowlands points out that therapists in all of these models are in the families’ homes far more frequently than the state and city require of general preventive workers, which presumably puts them in a better position to determine how children are faring. “We’re not there twice a month, we’re there all the time,” she says.

When a case is still open with ACS, the FFT-CW therapist and an ACS child protective worker are in frequent contact. Once a case is closed, if the therapist becomes concerned that a child may be in danger, she’ll call a conference with ACS workers and the family to discuss safety. “We’re talking risk all the time,” says Rowlands, who recalls one particularly challenging case where her therapists reached out to ACS 50 times.

But these are critical changes to the tested therapies these programs are built from. And in the evidence-based world, every change matters.

Strother thinks that if ACS workers are able to target only those teens at risk of entering foster care due to their own behavior, then the city would be wise to remove some of the child safety requirements now expected of its therapists. That way the programs can be used the way they’ve been demonstrated to work.

But Keith Hefner, publisher of Represent, a magazine written by and for teenagers in foster care, says that child safety should indeed be a real concern for these caseworkers, pointing out that behind the types of behaviors leading teens to foster care are often significant family problems that can take time to unravel. He praises ACS for providing more families with therapy. “Even if it weren’t evidence-based, I’d generally be in favor of this approach,” he says, but practitioners need to recognize the risks.

“There’s a real difference between a family breakdown, and where a parent is abusive,” Hefner says, noting that caseworkers in a home need to distinguish between the two—something that can be very difficult to do. “These are complicated cases.”

Some Represent writers who entered foster care as teens say they endured years of abuse that no one acknowledged. One young woman whose father repeatedly beat her was placed in foster care as a teen not because of her father’s abuse, but because she had become a chronic runaway to escape home. “She was going to therapy and it was along the lines of, ‘Why are you being a bad girl? You should listen to your father,’” says Virginia Vitzhum, editor of Represent. Vitzhum says this young woman felt she should have been placed in foster care sooner.

Hefner points out that, while studies have documented the poor life outcomes of young people who grow up in foster care, there is little data comparing them to those who have stuck it out in a “toxic” home. He says preventive workers need to be open to the possibility that foster care might be a better option for some teens and their siblings. While a young woman can run away from an abusive home, he adds, her younger siblings generally don’t have that option.

If these agencies are taking cases from ACS’s child protective staff and not once recommending a foster care placement, Hefner asks, is that because they have identified exactly the right families for their programs—or are the therapists overly biased against foster care? He and Vitzhum are among those who worry that the pressure to move cases quickly coupled with a philosophy to avoid foster care could leave some young people vulnerable to abuse.

***

The pressure to close cases fast is nearly palpable in Marta’s team meetings. At one, Jen, the team’s Spanish-speaking therapist, shared details of a case she is particularly proud of: A 14-year-old young woman who assaulted her teacher and other school staff in what the girl refers to as “attempted murder” got sent to Bellevue’s psychiatric hospital. After her release, child welfare workers wanted to send her to foster care in order to make sure she received mental health services. But Foundling’s FFT-CW workers pushed to keep her home.

Since then, the teen and her family have done well, Jen says. In her most recent session with the family, Jen taught the girl’s adoptive mother how to recognize signs that her daughter was about to have an outburst and explained how she could make sure her daughter took her psychiatric medication, something the young woman had avoided by hiding her pills. Jen also connected the family with people they could turn to when trouble hit, including the psychiatrist who agreed to meet with the young woman at her day program so she wouldn’t miss a session.

“Mom is very used to having services and help. She said to me, ‘Help me!” Jen said. “I pushed back to let her know she had the skills to do this. She could link up with providers herself.”

Marta murmured her approval. But when Jen said she wanted to give the family extra time to check in, Marta urged her to move on.

“Clinically we’re done,” Marta said. “We don’t do monitoring. We can’t have a case where all that’s pending is these resources. You’ve done a lot of great work for them. What are you going to do with them for another month? You are our only Spanish-speaking therapist.”

Jen smiled. “You must have gotten a new Spanish speaking case,” she said.

“Yes, and I don’t know what to do with it,” Marta said, laughing.

In contrast, when it comes to Patrice’s case involving the mother who says she wants her youngest child at home for the disability money he brings in, Marta does not push Patrice to move the family any faster. She focuses on helping Patrice find ways to engage the mother, to make her believe that this time, with this program, things can turn out differently. That means Patrice needs to come up with a more hope-filled way to regard the mother.

Jen offers her idea of what the mother’s noble intent might be. “It’s the livelihood,” she says. “Mom wants so badly to take care of the kids, she needs that money.”

Marta nods. “This money is so important to the family that if you lose it, you lose the other kids,” she says. “We reframe around things we don’t fully buy.”

Patrice looks slightly skeptical. “She calls her a bitch throughout the whole meeting with ACS there. There was a fight and mom scratched the kid in the eye. Mom kept saying she fucked the kid up and she didn’t care and she’d do it again.”

“If we don’t find a way to work with her, these kids aren’t going to remain with her and we know that foster care—in most cases—is not a better option,” Marta says, sounding firm and urgent.

“Mom’s homophobic,” Patrice continues, but Marta purposefully interrupts.

“What is causing the most reaction for you?” she asks. “The physical stuff? The way she talks to the kid?”

It takes Patrice a long time to answer. “Seeing her face scratched,” she says quietly. “That was not OK.”

“We aren’t saying it’s OK, but if we can’t find the noble intent, we can’t motivate the mom. Physical abuse we don’t reframe. We don’t want to tell these kids that it’s OK she’s hitting. But one reframe is, this is a mom who isn’t going to hide it. Kids are going to know when she’s upset…You could say, ‘You are going to be real with your kids. The problem is that you are so upset that you’re hitting them and you are talking about fucking them up.’”

Jen chimes in. “Sometimes before, I’ve said, ‘You care so much about your kids that you are trying to protect them. There are all these people in your house telling you what to do that you do the first thing that comes to your mind.’ I say that for the kids, not so they accept it, but maybe to put a different spin on it.”

“‘Maybe you are doing it because your parents did it, that’s how they showed love.’ I know you don’t buy it, but can you say it?” Marta asks.

Patrice considers this. “I think I can say some of that.” She adds that she is worried that if the mom goes on vacation with the younger child and leaves the 12–year–old with family, the girl will run away. “That will cause more fights,” she says.

Marta gives the mother the benefit of the doubt. “Mom is willing to take this kid on vacation to protect him. That shows she really wants to protect him.”

“Yes,” says Patrice. “I guess she really does care. The way it comes out is just so messed up, but I guess she really does care, somewhere in there.”

“Yeah,” says Marta. “We just have to tap into that noble intent.”

For a while the three young women discuss how Patrice could have handled the emergency conference differently, and how she can respond if the mother starts calling her daughter names again. Patrice notes that when the mother walks away and takes a lot of breaks from her children, it is, in a kind of heartbreaking, roundabout way, her way of protecting her children from herself, from her anger and frustration. Pointing that out to the mom, Patrice notes, might help her build more of an alliance with her.

“You do such a nice job of bringing up strengths,” Marta tells Patrice, who looks more assured than when she first began talking. “This is a mom who has not heard a lot of positive things about her family. You are doing a nice job with this family.”

 

For Years, Half of all NYPD Trespass Stops Were in Public Housing

People in New York City public housing are subject to more than double their share of police stops, according to government data recently filed in a class action lawsuit over police practices in public housing. Tenants of the New York City Housing Authority make up about five percent of the city’s population. In each of the past seven years, between 11 and 15 percent of all police stops were made on public housing properties. The disparities are even greater when it comes to stops made on suspicion of trespassing: In each of the four years from 2006 through 2009, public housing accounted for half of all the trespassing stops made in the city.

The trespassing lawsuit is being heard in a Manhattan federal court. A similar suit has already gone to trial over trespassing stops in private buildings whose landlords allow police greater access than usual under the ‘Clean Halls’ program. Police are authorized to question people in common areas like lobbies and stairwells—essentially bringing the practice of stop-and-frisk indoors. The plaintiffs argue that stops are so frequent that police effectively run pedestrian checkpoints on public housing grounds.

Kis Ravelin, a 23-year-old resident of the Washington Houses in East Harlem who was arrested for trespassing after being stopped in the lobby of his own building, tells Child Welfare Watch that he assumes he’s subject to suspicion every time he sees a police officer in his development. “It makes you feel like an experiment gone rogue,” he says. “Like they’re waiting for you to go haywire.” His case was promptly dismissed by the court, but not until he’d spent a night in jail. Ravelin was interviewed as part of a six-month Child Welfare Watch investigation of police relationships with NYCHA tenants, focusing on both young people and older residents; the report will be published in the upcoming Fall 2012 issue of the Watch.

The NYPD defends trespass stops as an indispensable tool for preventing violent crime in public housing. The overall rate of reported crime is 30 percent higher in NYCHA developments than in the rest of the city, according to police data. Rates of violent crime are nearly twice as high, and drug crime rates are four times higher. In one NYCHA-issued survey, nearly half of respondents said they were afraid to leave their own apartments because of crime.

Aida Melendez, 61, has lived in the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem all her life and serves on her building’s Resident Watch. At night, she says, “if you don’t know how to tuck and roll, you better not be outside.”

But higher crime rates don’t directly account for the elevated number of police stops on public housing properties, according to an analysis by Jeffrey Fagan, a Columbia University law professor hired by plaintiffs to analyze crime and enforcement data.

Even controlling for crime rates, socioeconomic conditions and the volume of police presence, Fagan found that people on public housing grounds are close to four times likelier to be stopped on suspicion of trespassing than people in immediately surrounding neighborhoods.

Some policing experts argue that such aggressive, targeted enforcement can make crime more intractable in vulnerable communities, because it undermines police officers’ ability to collaborate with residents. “Good police work involves building relationships with people in communities. They’re the ones who know where crime is happening and who’s committing it,” says Paul Butler, a Georgetown University professor and former prosecutor for the federal Department of Justice. “The police need friends. They’re making enemies.”

The city’s policing numbers point to a reality more complicated than either side would contend. Following negotiations with tenant leaders in 2009, the rate of trespassing stops on public housing grounds dropped by nearly 60 percent. Last year, public housing accounted for just under a third of the city’s total trespassing stops—still an outsized proportion, but a significant decrease from the 50 percent it represented in preceding years.

There’s no evidence that cutting down on trespass stops tied the police department’s hands when it came to enforcement. During the same period, the total number of arrests on public housing properties barely declined at all.

 

 

A First in NY: Residence for Young Offenders with Mental Illness

Last week marked the opening of the first psychiatric residence for juvenile delinquents in the state's custody. Most of the handful of young people who have moved into the new home in Brooklyn are transferring from juvenile justice facilities upstate. Some have been waiting for weeks or even months to move in, says Michael Pawel, who runs the August Aichhorn Center, which operates the new residence. These young people are among the 50 percent of young adults in state-run juvenile correctional facilities who have been diagnosed with a mental illness, according to the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), which runs the New York State juvenile justice system. Child Welfare Watch has previously reported on how difficult it is to find appropriate placements for court-involved youth with mental illness.  A 2009 federal Department of Justice investigation found that state-run juvenile justice facilities were woefully lacking in the treatment of mental illness. As we reported in 2009, state-licensed residential treatment facilities, which are designed to work with mentally ill young people, are notorious for screening out children known to be aggressive or violent.

When Pawel visited some of the juvenile justice facilities to let them know about the new residential program in Brooklyn, he says many staff told him they had long given up on trying to get young people moved to residential treatment facilities. Pawel hopes the new Brooklyn home, which will house 24 young people, will change that.

The new facility has a psychiatrist and therapists on staff. It is overseen by the Office of Mental Health and is not part of the new system the city is building for local juvenile delinquents.

Rather, it is part of a larger reform effort to house young people with mental illness in homelike, therapeutic facilities located in the five boroughs. The building was formerly a children’s psychiatric hospital with seclusion rooms and a 100-foot steel fence separating it from the community. Aichhorn has spent the better part of the last year renovating the building to be more welcoming and better integrated in the surrounding neighborhood of Weeksville.

The building now has direct access to the street with an unlocked gate, and no seclusion rooms. Aichhorn revamped what had been 72 identical bedrooms in the children’s hospital to allow for a new entry and lobby, and suites of eight bedrooms each, which will be co-ed, something that is unusual in the juvenile justice world but that Pawel says creates calmer dynamics among residents.  You can download a slideshow of the building before and after renovations through a link here.

The residence will continue to admit youth until it reaches capacity, with the hopes that it will serve an equal number of young women and men, says an OCFS spokesperson. Pawel hopes and expects the state will find a way for residents to be sent to the Brooklyn home directly after being sentenced in court.

His one gripe is that despite Aichhorn’s track record of working with young people with mental illness, the Office of Mental Health’s Bureau of Inspection told him to change the building’s carefully chosen bathroom fixtures as a suicide prevention measure. The new toilet paper dispensers cost $250 each, he says, and are ugly. “It’s totally crazy to be telling us what we need for security,” he says. “But if you don’t open the bathrooms, it looks really nice.”

Preparing New Group Homes for Young Lawbreakers

The Bloomberg administration is swiftly moving on its plans to establish several new group homes that will house New Yorkers aged 15 and under who have been sentenced for crimes. The city has chosen 11 nonprofit providers to operate the nonsecure, residential centers, which will open as early as September. This leaves the organizations just a few summer months to get the facilities up and running.

The new residences will each house from 4 to 24 young people, making room for more than 300 juvenile delinquents to serve their time in the city instead of in juvenile facilities upstate. One of organizations' first challenges has been finding affordable, spacious sites in the city. Some are converting properties they already own or lease, while others will rent new sites. Former convents and homes that once housed priests are proving especially popular. These buildings are too big to use for private homes and the diocese can keep them off the tax rolls by leasing them to nonprofits.

The new residences will be overseen by the Administration for Children's Services (ACS), and are expected to provide not only supervision but also counseling and social services. Despite the nonsecure, label, these city residences will in fact be locked and fully staffed, though not ringed with barbed wire like the upstate lockups they will replace.

Officials say that keeping teen offenders close to their families, communities, and lawyers, and in city-run education programs, should help smooth their transitions home and reduce the likelihood that they will commit new crimes. "This is as significant a shift as I have seen in my thirty years in the business, and a most welcome one," says Bill Baccaglini, executive director of New York Foundling, which will be running one of the new facilities.

The nonsecure residences are part of the city's Close to Home, initiative, which transfers responsibility for all but the most severe of the city's young lawbreakers from the state to the city. Though most of the new sites will open in the five boroughs, a few specialized residential programs for young people with specific issues, like fire starters or girls who have been exploited as prostitutes, will be located on residential campuses in Westchester and Long Island. ACS expects some of these specialized programs to move into the city within two years.

All of the new sites must meet certain state and city requirements, like having high quality video surveillance in common areas and windows that activate alarms when opened too far. "We want the facility to be appropriate and friendly to the young people so it feels as homelike as possible, and yet it has also to be a facility we can watch and monitor appropriately for the safety of the young people in the facility, but also for the community," says Alan Mucatel, executive director of Leake & Watts.

Leake & Watts will open a 12-bed home in the Bronx in a building that used to be a group home for mothers in foster care and their children. When renovating the site, the agency is getting rid of nooks where young people can hide from view and "that can lead to something unsafe and inappropriate," says Mucatel. Instead, the house will have large, open common spaces and bedrooms all on one floor.

All of the providers have experience working with young people who have committed crimes, most commonly as an offshoot of residential foster care programs, or as an operator of detention centers for young people awaiting trial. Most say they aim to strike a balance between keeping young delinquents and their new neighbors safe while also creating comfortable, welcoming environments that resemble family life. They plan to have a high ratio of staff to young people and will encourage parents and other family members to visit regularly. Most also plan to give the young people increasing degrees of autonomy as they win staff members' trust, including chances to make excursions outside the facilities without a chaperone. "As soon as it is deemed safe and appropriate, the child will be going on home visits," says Elizabeth McCarthy, executive director of Episcopal Social Services of New York.

Young people will live in the new facilities an average of seven months, and attend one of two schools that are hurriedly being created by the Department of Education. Under the current plan, many will return to their former public schools as they get close to returning home, in order to help make the transition less abrupt.

Over the next few months, ACS will train staff for the facilities in crisis management. This includes de-escalating volatile situations by talking with and calming young people, while avoiding the restraints and excessive force that a 2009 Federal Justice Investigation found routine at juvenile justice facilities upstate.

The administration has also asked the facilities to choose therapeutic evidence based, models that have been shown to have positive results. Most of the providers plan to adopt elements of the Missouri Model, a reform effort that began in Missouri but has been attributed to reducing recidivism rates among juvenile delinquents in other states as well. The model emphasizes rehabilitation and uses small groups, minimal force, and strong relationships between staff and young people, where staff are seen as supportive rather than custodial.

The organizations have only until the fall to put everything in place. "There's a tight timeframe here," says Mucatel. "There's all the anxiety that comes along with doing any new program. You want to do it right. You want to hire engaged and ambitious staff. And we are bringing on a model that is new to us, the Missouri Model, and I'm sure there will be some adjustment to us culturally to make that who we are."

Most of the providers say they are not yet clear on how or whether they need to inform communities about the new facilities. Several did not want to reveal the addresses of the new homes for fear that it might spur local resistance. But Mucatel of Leake & Watts says it is critical to find ways to work with neighbors and link the young people and their families to local supports right away. "The success of these programs is going to count on community engagement and family engagement. That's the whole point. That's what will give these young people a sense of feeling rooted in their neighborhoods, and propel them to making choices that will keep them out of the criminal and juvenile justice system," he says.

Boys Town, an organization with long experience in juvenile justice, already runs two homes in the city for teens convicted of crimes. One is a small group home in a brownstone on a tree-lined street of Park Slope. A married couple, Kenneth and Sarai Ortiz, run the house, which they share with six young men.

One of them, Omar (not his real name), is skinny and soft-spoken with brown hair and braces. He has also spent time in an upstate lockup where the boys had two big dorm rooms with beds lined up prison-style, he says, and everyone had to shower together, something he particularly hated. He says he often felt isolated, and scared for his safety. Upstate, Omar says, it felt like both the staff and the young people were just doing time.

But in the Park Slope group home, he says, "We're like brothers. We work together and do chores. I consider them family." After looking carefully around the living room at his surrogate brothers sitting on a couch, he breaks into a grin, adding, "Most of the time."

Action in the Legislature on Raise the Age

The effort to keep nonviolent 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult court has moved to the state legislature, which is considering two new juvenile justice bills. One, based on a proposal by the state's chief judge, would establish permanent youth courts that prevent those tried for nonviolent offenses from picking up permanent criminal records, but would have little impact for thousands of 16- and 17-year-olds charged each year with violent felonies.

The second would raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 for all but those accused of the most serious offenses, sending them automatically through the juvenile justice system.

New York and North Carolina are the only two remaining states in the country that automatically send 16- and 17-year-olds to adult Criminal Court, even for such low-level offenses as vandalism and shoplifting.

Legislative observers say the bill that is most likely to move forward is a compromise that reflects the desire of youth advocates, legislators and Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to raise the age of adult criminal prosecutions to 18 for nonviolent offenses, but will not overload the Family Court with thousands of new cases. In fact, the new youth courts would be located in and managed by the adult Criminal Court system.

New York has been operating pilot versions of the youth courts since January. Teenagers who are convicted in these special courts are referred to programs that provide services like counseling and job training. Once their cases are closed, their records are sealed, just as they are for juveniles in Family Court.

Proponents of the legislation maintain that sheltering children from the life-long impact of a criminal record is reason enough to make the youth courts permanent. Some youth advocates say the proposal doesn't go far enough, since it would apply only to young people accused of nonviolent crimes. In fact, today, most young people accused of nonviolent crimes are already shielded from criminal records because they end up pleading down to non-criminal offenses or receive Youthful Offender status, which does not carry a record.

"If it doesn't include people accused of violent felonies it may fall short of the intended goals," says Laurie Parise, the director of Youth Represent, which provides legal services to teenaged defendants. Such crimes, which never seal, cause a lifetime of barriers to obtaining the most basic rights such as employment, public housing and higher education, things that are essential for future success."

Last year, more than 37,000 16- and 17-year-olds were arrested on misdemeanor or nonviolent felony charges such as the ones which would make them eligible for the new courts, according to data from the state's Department of Criminal Justice Services. Fewer than 1,300 of these, or about 3 percent, ended up with a misdemeanor or felony conviction on their permanent records.

That same year, 5,800 16- and 17-year olds were charged with violent felonies, and 15 percent ended up with a conviction in adult court and a permanent record.

Glenn Martin, a spokesperson for the Fortune Society, agrees that the effort to keep children out of adult courts should extend to all 16- and 17-year-olds. I think we're at a point in time to do something amazing here,, he says. If you're making a statement about how the human mind works at 16, I don't think you should differentiate between violent and nonviolent offenses.,

David Bookstaver, a spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration, says limiting the proposal to nonviolent charges is a strategic choice. The reality is that we were looking for broad consensus and support as we were drafting this legislation,, he says. The most effective way to garner support is to develop a bill that is likely to succeed. Right now we think the best way to do that is to address the issue of nonviolent offenses.,

The bill's greatest impact will likely be in a provision that keeps teenagers out of court altogether.

The legislation would make nonviolent 16- and 17-year-olds eligible for a pre-court diversion process, known as adjustment, , that is currently available only to kids in the juvenile justice system. Martin F. Horn, director of the New York State Sentencing Commission, estimates that as many as 40 percent of young people charged with a crime will be diverted before court. He says that probation costs will likely increase as a result, but expects that cost to be offset entirely by the savings from detaining fewer youths.

In cases where it is determined that a young person should be detained while their court cases are pending, they would continue to be held in adult facilities. If convicted, they would be placed in lockups and alternative programs that currently hold and serve juveniles.

Originally, Judge Lippman had proposed to have 16- and 17-year-olds tried in Family Court, but faced opposition over concerns that the Family Court system is already overburdened. The proposed bill sidesteps this problem by designating Criminal Court judges to act like Family Court judges when hearing cases involving accused 16- and 17-year-olds. Lippman still cites the eventual shift of the cases into Family Court as a long-term goal.

Unlike in Family Court, the teenaged defendants will have the protections of due process, sheltering them from the lengthy probing into non-criminal issues, like skipping school or fighting with siblings, that often accompanies the Family Court process.

With just four weeks left in the legislative session, the bill's sponsor, Assemblymember Joseph Lentol (D-Williamsburgh/Greenpoint) says he believes it will advance through the Assembly and may get some movement in the Senate, where it is sponsored by Senator Stephen Saland (R-Poughkeepsie). This will likely set the stage for hearings and further discussion during the off session and into next year," Lentol says.

Lentol also introduced the second, far more sweeping bill this week, which would raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 for all but those accused of the most serious offenses, sending them directly though Family Court and the juvenile justice system. This second bill represents what I believe is real reform of our criminal justice system in dealing with juvenile offenders,, he says. It doesn't appear that the Senate is willing to go as far as my legislation goes , The Chief Judge's bill attempts to address concerns expressed by opponents [of the raise-the-age bill]."