Spotlight on Juvenile Justice: The Political Landscape

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The visions of leaders of key juvenile justice and child welfare agencies in New York are now more aligned with advocates’ agendas than at any other time in recent history. Since her 2007 appointment as Commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS)—the state agency that operates juvenile prisons—Gladys Carrión has persistently addressed the system’s entrenched problems, such as high recidivism rates and the disproportionate confinement of youth of color, and has worked closely with JJP and other advocates to develop an ambitious reform agenda. Vincent Schiraldi, the new Commissioner of the NYC Department of Probation, has likewise called for sweeping changes in the treatment of youth caught up in the system. Both leaders have demonstrated a commitment to advancing more therapeutic, less punitive models of juvenile justice, greater use of evidence based alternative programs, and placements closer to young people’s communities.

Experience has shown us it is a serious mistake to de-emphasize the role of the advocacy community in times of progressive reform. Strong advocates like the CA are crucial to maintaining accountability and transparency and to making certain that government advances and implements the right reforms. Additionally, even the most reform-minded government officials are limited by the scope of their individual roles, budgetary realities and the larger political context in which they work. And while the current administration is reform-minded, an over-reliance on individual government officials can eventually backfire if political winds shift.