Youth leaders speak out about the Close to Home Initiative

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Youth from the CA’s Safe Passages program testified at a public hearing on the Close To Home Initiative (CTHI) plan released earlier this spring by the NYC Administration for Children’s Services.

Proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo as part of the 2012-2013 Executive Budget and passed by the Legislature in March, the initiative could strengthen communities and bring about better life outcomes for court-involved children. Under the legislation, New York City’s children currently confined in the state’s non-secure and limited-secure placement facilities will be placed closer to their homes and communities, allowing youth easier access to educational resources and providing families increased opportunities to support their children.

Safe Passages Youth 2011

Safe Passages is the CA’s leadership and advocacy training program for LGBTQ youth

In addition, CTHI offers community-based alternatives-to-incarceration when deemed suitable for the child’s needs and community safety, a proven measure in reducing youth recidivism rates. We are also pleased to report that the CA-run Juvenile Justice Coalition, working in collaboration with NYC’s Department of Youth and Family Justice, was instrumental in developing a robust set of best-practice guidelines for working with LGBTQ youth in detention, alternative-to-detention programs, and other programs. Among the most progressive in the nation, these guidelines will apply to all CTHI facilities.

In her testimony, Quay spoke about the use of physical restraints on children in youth facilities:

 “…When I was of the age of 11, I was put in a restraint by two staff members. It was very painful and I cried my eyes out. I felt as if my arms were broken and couldn’t move. I barely could breathe due to the fact that my face was in the carpet … Restraints are not a good form of trying to relax or calm someone down. It makes you more angry and upset …it should never take 4 or more staff to restrain a kid … In the end violence is not the answer. Being kind and cordial will always work. Be professional and less aggressive.”

Peter spoke about educational services for youth and the need for youth to be closer to home:

  “The Close to Home Initiative is good for children because they will be closer to public school so they can get credits that are counted toward their diploma. I have experienced feeling backtracked in school and that makes youth feel left behind and feel like you have twice as much to catch up on. This can be very discouraging … Being away can affect [children’s] emotional state, and a child may feel neglected and alone, as if no one cares about them. Youth must be able to see their families.”

“The CA is committed to organizing and empowering youth to advocate for a safer youth justice system, ” says Tanesha Ingram, who coordinates the Safe Passages program. “All of us at the CA are tremendously proud and impressed with the advocacy work our youth leaders have done both throughout the entire 2011 training cycle and in particular, around the Close to Home Initiative. As this legislation begins to roll out, it is critical that the voices of youth, families, community members, and those most affected by the debate for youth justice reform continue to be heard. ”

In the weeks and months ahead, the CA will closely monitor the implementation of the CTHI to ensure protection for children, and serve as a vehicle for youth, families, communities, and advocates to continue to voice their concerns and stay active in the movement for youth justice reform.