Fewer sticks. Next: tastier carrots

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Finally.  The city signals its intent to rely less on the criminal justice system as a first resort for teens:

The Bloomberg administration plans to merge the city’s Department of Juvenile Justice into its child welfare agency, signaling a more therapeutic approach toward delinquency that will send fewer of the city’s troubled teenagers to jail.

Research, such as the 1998 Department of Justice study on what works in crime prevention, has demonstrated that arresting juveniles for minor offenses can cause them to become more delinquent.  This is something I believe we’ve understood for some time.  As last, someone is acting on it.  The NYTimes outlines the city’s plan:

Juvenile offenders, usually between the ages of 11 and 16, are typically in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice before trial and sentencing. The department, which handles about 5,500 offenders a year, places them in group homes or in one of three detention centers. A judge’s typical options at sentencing are to release offenders on probation or send them to one of the state’s juvenile prisons or residential facilities run by nonprofit organizations.

Under the new plan, city officials will more frequently recommend to a judge that a young person be allowed to return home, provided the family submits to intensive visits by therapists and social workers supervised by the Administration for Children’s Services [ACS].

Of course, this means that we have to make sure ACS has their house in order.  With petty crimes, it is most often an issue of creating a home environment that promotes high expectations, structure and discipline.  When kids turn to crime, they are likely channeling frustration at some deficiency in other support structures.  Kids may steal to compensate for low household income.  They may hang with crowds that provide a familial atmosphere, but lack the expectation-setting and authority needed to influence behavior.  Real crime prevention strategies must look beyond the offender: jobs, schools, extracurriculars, etc.

This is ACS’s burden, and it is far more challenging than tossing teens in jail.  We must focus on these programs and dispense with the ‘soft-on-crime’ stuff that easily creeps into our mayoral elections.

Posted on January 21st 2010 in news

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