at roughly $17,000 per child, such in-home therapy programs cost a fraction of the annual expense of keeping a child in secure detention, which can be $140,000 to $200,000.In Texas we spend around $60-65K per year for children locked up in TYC - more for those with significant mental or physical healthcare needs - so $17K would be an inexpensive alternative, even here where we spend much less than New York.
In fact, the financial incentive is such that both the city and state are rapidly moving away from residential detention. Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the state’s Office of Children and Family Services, recently announced that she would close six nonsecure facilities, a cut that will save the state $16 million a year.
The elimination of detention beds puts more pressure on the city to succeed.
The Texas Youth Commission has been placing community services under similar pressure under the previous administration, just without really announcing or planning for it jointly with counties. Both new agency rules and SB 103 contained provisions aimed at reducing the number of youths who enter TYC and reducing the length of stay for kids who are sent there. Thus, local probation departments and juvenile detention facilities, just like in New York, currently are under significant pressure to manage more of these youth in the community.
I'm particularly encouraged that the NY program appears to focus on the entire family unit, particularly the parents, not just the offending kid. The typical parent of youth in the juvenile justice system, while widely blamed in many quarters for their children's offenses, usually is at the end of his or her rope. Many need knowledge or resources they don't have to manage youth in crisis. In any event, locking their kids up empirically wasn't preventing new crime:
Some youth are truly dangerous and need to be locked up for everyone's safety, but right now a lot of non-violent offenders and more petty violators are locked up in TYC with the true predators, mostly because counties - especially the Big Five - don't have an infrastructure to provide the kind of community-based resources described in the article.
State studies found that more than 80 percent of male juvenile offenders who had served time in correctional facilities were rearrested within three years of their release, usually on more serious charges.
While in-home services mean that hundreds of teenagers with criminal records are returned to their communities, city officials say it is a trade they are willing to make. “It’s an uphill battle,” says Ronald E. Richter, the city’s family services coordinator. “These young people and their families present complex challenges.”
But whether the children go to residential correctional facilities or not, they come back to the community eventually anyway, Mr. Richter said, and the program “helps parents learn how to supervise and manage their adolescents so that they act responsibly instead of engaging in dangerous behaviors.”
Community-based services aren't a cure-all for juvenile crime, but neither are youth prisons, which are a lot more expensive and which we already know don't prevent recidivism. As the Youth Commission and the juvenile probation system go through "Sunset" review in the coming year, I hope this model - which coincides with and complements the recommendations of the "Blue Ribbon Panel" - is the direction they take things.
Indeed, I wish we'd had the foresight to prepare that infrastructure before they started shoveling kids downstream by the hundreds to local juvie probation departments, who don't have resources to handle them, after all, or the youth wouldn't have sent them to TYC in the first place.