New York Numbers Game

Matthew Schwarzfeld, a reporter at the New York-based urban policy magazine City Limits, looks at the costs associated with implementing the ambitious state plan, put forward by Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) commissioner Gladys Carrión, to shut down six youth prisons next year. (Background here and here.)

“Now that Carrión has put her agency on the path toward a community-based treatment model for lesser juvenile offenders, groups affected by the change are wondering if and how the state will help pay for it,” he writes. “Only $863,000 of the $14 million saved by closing the facilities will be reinvested directly into community programs. (The remainder will be used to hire staff for facility-based and aftercare programming.)

So where, it’s fair to ask, is the money for these proposed community programs going to come from? State reimbursements? That’s what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants. And that’s what the New York Juvenile Justice Coalition calls for, too. The Redirect New York bill, which the Coalition helped draft, “would require the state to reimburse counties at 65 percent for [alternative] programs rather than the current 50 percent.” OCFS has also proposed doing away with reimbursements for detention, creating a further disincentive for counties to continue sending young offenders down the school-to-prison pipeline.

Everything about this plan is bold, and promising. Turning off the spigot on that pipeline is, of course, the right aim. Incentivizing communities to develop detention alternatives–also, a smart move. Making sure that those alternatives are in place, ready to open their doors on day one and then adequately funded so that they stay open in the long term–you can’t ask for more than that. Then again, you can’t ask for anything less.

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