In 2021, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) engaged the assistance of the Research and Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (JohnJayREC) to support several research and data analytic projects associated with a City effort to improve public safety and the effectiveness of the justice system.
Public safety is largely about social conditions and the extent to which people feel secure, not only in their own homes but in their communities in terms of housing and healthcare and education, food supply. If those things are all taken care of, you don't need policing as much as you would otherwise.
Policymakers, advocates, and even some researchers claim that youth confinement rates across the United States dropped in recent years due to changes in policy and practice. Such claims remain unproven, but voters and elected officials are inclined to accept them as factual because they are offered by reputable agencies and repeated in news media sources. Without reliable evidence, however, the notion that state-level youth confinement rates fall primarily in response to progressive policy reforms is merely appealing rhetoric.
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."
Researchers used state-level data on youth justice policies and practices to explore the association between state policy environments and recent changes in the use of residential placements for adjudicated youth (i.e., confinement). The study assigned a score to each of the 50 states based on the extent to which their youth justice policy environments could be considered “progressive” as opposed to punitive or regressive.
With funding provided by the City of New York through its Administration for Children's Services (ACS), the Research and Evaluation Center reviewed and compiled recent research and practice innovations focused on adolescent development and the youth justice system.
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.
Building a Juvenile Justice System for the Future. Presented to the Michigan Family Impact Seminar, Michigan State Capitol.
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.
Positive youth development could be an effective framework for designing general interventions for young offenders. Such a framework would encourage youth justice systems to focus on protective factors as well as risk factors, strengths as well as problems, and broader efforts to facilitate successful transitions to adulthood for justice-involved youth. The positive youth development approach supports youth in making successful transitions from adolescence to early adulthood by encouraging young people to develop useful skills and competencies, and to build stronger connections with pro-social peers, families, and communities). Young people engaged with trustworthy adults and peers in the pursuit of meaningful activities and the acquisition of new skills are more likely to build the developmental assets needed for a positive adulthood.
Researchers reviewed the scientific evidence behind positive youth development and proposed a theoretical and evaluative framework that could be used to build developmentally-appropriate interventions for justice-involved youth.
Meaningful reforms in juvenile crime policy have been difficult to achieve. Lawmakers are torn between the views of youth advocates who defend a traditional juvenile court that no longer exists, and hardliners who want to send even more youths to an adult court system that is still not prepared to deal with them properly. Focusing the attention of policy makers on the need to build a new youth justice system with a diverse menu of options for young offenders might help calm the acrimonious debates about transferring young offenders to adult court.