A Close New Look at ‘Close to Home’
In late 2012, New York City launched one of the most ambitious juvenile justice reforms in the nation: Rather than sending kids who commit low-level offenses to Upstate lockups plagued by histories of abuse and failure, the city opened its own network of small, secure group homes within the five boroughs and nearby suburbs.In this ongoing investigation, we look at the success and challenges of the "Close to Home" reform: Is the program living up to its promise? Are New York City kids better off?
Our main findings so far:
· The Close to Home program has been troubled by problems with security, including youth going AWOL from residences and young people getting re-arrested at high rates, either during their stay in Close to Home lockups or while they are in aftercare. In June 2015, Boys Town became the third Close to Home provider to lose its contract with the city, after three teens who had run away from a Brooklyn program were charged with robbing and raping a woman in Manhattan. The agency New York Foundling voluntarily shut down its Close to Home programs in 2013, after an AWOL resident allegedly killed a man in a fight in Queens. St. Vincent’s Services also gave up its Close to Home contract in 2013, due in large part to high rates of staff turnover and AWOLs.
· It is also true, however, that the number of AWOLs and re-arrests have dropped dramatically over the course of the Close to Home program, and that many residences seem to be running safely and well. Overall, incidents of residents going AWOL shrank by more than 50% in Close to Home’s second full year of operation. While re-arrest numbers remain high (there were 177 arrests in 2014, during which time the program served 707 youth), the rate of kids being returned to Upstate facilities decreased, even as the number of offenders in the program steadily grew. Staff at facilities report that turnover has dropped dramatically, and that programs have become far more stable.
While it’s too early to measure positive, long-term outcomes among youth who spend time in Close to Home programs, such as the rate at which they go on to graduate from high school, Close to Home youth are finding significant success in accumulating educational credits. Many young residents report receiving meaningful emotional support from staff during their time in Close to Home residences. It is common for young residents to visit programs even after they have been released, voluntarily continuing supportive relationships.
· As with other aspects of the juvenile justice system, Close to Home involves a dramatically disproportionate number of youth of color from very low-income neighborhoods. Fifty-six percent of the 329 kids who entered Close to Home lockups in city fiscal year 2014 were African-American. Another 28 percent were Hispanic. Just two percent were white. Over 40 percent of kids sent to Close to Home lockups in 2014 came from only 16 New York City zip codes, which are concentrated in just five contiguous areas of the city.
· The top charge leading to placement in a Close to Home facility, by far, is violation of probation. Violations were the top charge for more than 30 percent of the kids sent to Close to Home facilities in fiscal year 2014, followed by robbery (11 percent) and assault (10 percent). Violations often stem from behaviors that would not be illegal if they were committed by an adult, like skipping school or staying out past curfew.
Read our latest stories for a look at Close to Home programs and the young people who spend time in them.