Cuomo Seeks to Defund High-Profile Juvenile Justice Program

by Fred Mogul, WNYC News

logo_wnyc_reducedNew York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration wants to pull funding for a juvenile justice program started in 2013 with great fanfare.

In the newly released 2019 budget proposal, state officials would zero out the $41 million that Albany has committed annually to “Close to Home.” The program places juveniles convicted of crimes in facilities in the city, instead of sending them outside the region.

Close to Home serves about 250 youths a year, but is poised to serve many more, following “Raise the Age” legislation that will transfer 16- and 17-year-olds out of the adult criminal justice system into the juvenile one. Starting later this year, these teens will no longer be detained on Riker’s Island or be sent to adult prisons.

Close to Home has had a bumpy start. There were hundreds of escapes the year it began. One 17-year-old got out of a Staten Island center and allegedly stabbed a Queens man to death. Then, in 2015, teens incarcerated at a Brooklyn facility escaped and sexually assaulted a woman in Chinatown. A 2016 audit by City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office found that the Administration for Children’s Services, which manages the program, failed to adequately monitor facilities and the private non-profit organizations contracted to run them.

Nonetheless, outside experts say the program has started to show results. Residents “stay connected with their families and they are more likely to remain in local schools,” wrote Prof. Jeffrey Butts, from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Research and Evaluation Center, in a 44-page report on Close to Home in 2015.

The city says the program is much improved and deserves state support.

“It would be unconscionable to cut funding to this program just as we are preparing to finally move 16- and 17-year-olds into the juvenile justice system,” an ACS spokesman said. “Cutting funding to this program would harm young people, families, and communities, and we urge the state to reconsider.”

Stephanie Gendell, from the Citizens Committee for Children, says the state typically pays for around half the costs of incarcerating youths.

“In other counties, it’s a shared responsibility between the county and the state,” she said. “New York City children should have the support of the state in the same way children of other counties do.”

A spokesman for the Cuomo administration said the state remains committed to Close to Home and expects it to continue with city funding. “It’s a bad budget year,” he said, with the state facing a budget deficit of more than $4 billion.

Overall, Cuomo proposes increasing state spending on New York City by $233 million from fiscal 2018 to 2019 – about 1 percent of the proposed $16.5 billion allocation.

Cuomo and lawmakers will negotiate the budget in the coming months. By law, it must be passed by March 31.

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