But while the numbers show New York City is shifting gears on criminal justice reform, much harder is to establish, the experts said, is whether new policies are causing the drop in crime or whether they are a consequence of it.... Crime numbers have been decreasing for a long time nationwide, and even worldwide, said Jeffrey Butts, a professor who leads the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He has researched the juvenile justice system since the late 1980s.
Jurisdictions that make extensive use of parole tend to have higher recidivism rates because more of their returning citizens are under the surveillance of parole officers and subject to onerous parole conditions that, if violated, could send them back to prison. “Comparing virtually any group of states or cities with simple, aggregate recidivism figures is inherently misleading and should constitute statistical malpractice,” according to criminologists Jeffrey A. Butts and Vincent Schiraldi.
"Nothing in the governor's plan ensures that Wisconsin will have an effective approach to youth justice," cautioned Jeffrey Butts, director of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. "Poor implementation and ineffective management can ruin the best of plans."
The Research and Evaluation Center investigated the feasibility, implementation, and impact of a youth justice realignment effort in New York State. Known as Close to Home, the initiative diverted young offenders from state facilities and shifted interventions to community-based programs under the direct or indirect management of local government. Over the past two decades, realignment has attracted growing attention in New York and elsewhere due to crowded facilities, strained budgets, and the persistent failure of the justice system to reduce recidivism.
Jeffrey Butts, a justice scholar at John Jay College who has worked with the city on analyzing its juvenile capacity needs, notes that a city-administered system could create new financial incentives to keep kids out of lockups altogether, since incarceration is many times more expensive than alternative programs that provide community-based supervision alongside services like family counseling and job training. "If you have $100 to spend and you can either use that money to put one kid in a facility or work with three or four kids in the community, you'll find that the impulse to put kids in secure facilities goes way down," says Butts.
While many states have refashioned their policies, some continue to lock up teenagers despite declining violent crime rates. An analysis of the most recent federal data by the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice shows that only 1 in 20 arrests of young people are for serious, violent crimes like murder, rape or aggravated assault. About 80 percent of those taken in state custody are locked up for drug offenses, misdemeanors or property crimes.
The scale of incarceration is not simply a reaction to crime. It is a policy choice. Some lawmakers invest heavily in youth confinement facilities. In their jurisdictions, incarceration is a key component of the youth justice system. Other lawmakers invest more in community-based programs. In their view, costly confinement should be reserved for chronic and seriously violent offenders. These choices are critical for budgets and for safety.
As juvenile justice agencies explore the concepts of positive youth development, the National Program Office of Reclaiming Futures asked for a quick, verbal explanation of these ideas.
With funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice extended its program of research and technical assistance on juvenile justice realignment, or efforts to shift programs and resources for young offenders away from centralized, state-run facilities and into locally-operated, community-based, and non-residential programs.
Reducing youth crime is a complicated business, and I think we all know that it takes more than punishment. If it were possible to stop crime simply by adopting policies that sound tough and by advocating more use of secure confinement, we would have succeeded by now. That strategy has been tried enough times for us to know whether it works. Decades of research tell us that it does not work.
Six communities in North Carolina collaborated to bring the Reclaiming Futures approach to agencies serving the needs of youthful offenders with drug and alcohol problems. The project worked intensively with the Reclaiming Futures National Program Office in Portland, Oregon and North Carolina sites selected by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust to develop and demonstrate the Reclaiming Futures model in North Carolina communities.