Tough love. A hundred years before anyone had ever heard, or tired, of that phrase it was essentially the guiding philosophy of American juvenile justice. Here in New York, that meant removing troubled kids from the bad influences of big-city streets and dysfunctional homes to the secure and supposedly wholesome environments of rural Upstate juvenile detention facilities, where they could, presumably, get their young lives straightened out.
That was the theory. But in recent years, journalists and an exhaustive and damning U.S. Department of Justice investigation of the State’s residential detention centers depicted a starkly grimmer realty: Of heavily medicated kids warehoused in snowbound, half-empty, prison-like facilities, subjected to heavy doses of staff indifference, or, worse, to occasional, nightmarish episodes of staff violence.
In 2008, New York State began closing the worst of the state’s facilities and building up alternative juvenile justice remedies. Family Court judges in the city diverted a steadily growing number of kids to community-based alternatives. Then in 2011, the State Legislature approved a plan that represented a sea change in juvenile justice policy and practice in the nation’s largest city. Between October 2012 and May 2013, hundreds of city kids were transferred out of State facilities and a new City-run program, called 'Close to Home,' got up and running.
In the stories below, we take a look at Close to Home programs and the young people who spend time in them. In the months ahead, we'll look at the program's planned expansion, at its record of helping kids stay on track in school, and at the Close to Home bottom line for City taxpayers. In short, we'll be evaluating the major aspects of one of the most significant--and still largely unreported--experiments with juvenile justice in the nation.
Photos by: Alex Bryden