Girls Fare Better in Open-Door Justice Programs

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From Women's

If a girl in New York State gets arrested by the police and winds up in a juvenile detention facility her horizons quickly close in.

Just ask Marsha Weissman, executive director of a group called the Center for Community Alternatives, which has locations in New York City, Syracuse and Rochester.

“Our work with adult women . . . provides the most haunting picture of girls in the juvenile justice system,” Weissman told the New York City Council several years ago. “Most women in the criminal justice system first appeared as girls in the juvenile justice system.”

Weissman, in a recent phone interview, said increasing poverty and homelessness is causing more girls and young women to run away from home and into “not-so-good situations or the streets.” That in turn, Weissman said, raises the odds of getting drawn into law-breaking behaviors and getting arrested.

The Center for Community Alternatives and other programs like it are offering young people an alternative to what happens after arrest.

Instead of incarceration, these programs allow participants to stay in their own homes and communities while accessing educational, mental health and behavioral services. For girls, the programs that are single sex are proving most beneficial.

Such alternatives to detention (ATDs) or alternatives to incarceration (ATIs) are part of a growing effort to fight the dire statistics that loom over children who enter detention and confinement facilities.

Last year, in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo granted $5 million for 23 such programs for adults and teens in a push for de-incarceration in New York State.

And little by little, a space in these programs is being carved for girls stuck in a system that was made for males.

Girls make up 19 percent of those in juvenile facilities in New York State and 29 percent of juvenile arrests.

More often than for boys, girls are confined for “status offenses,” acts that would not be illegal if they were performed by an adult, such as truancy, rather than violent crimes.

Sixty-six percent of boys and 49 percent of girls who come out of a detention or confinement facility were rearrested within two years, according to a 2011 New York State Office of Children and Family Services study.

Decreasing Recidivism
Alternative programs appear to be lowering recidivism.

In the first 11 months after participating in one such a program, Youth Advocate Programs, based in Harrisburg, Penn., less than 10 percent of the young people enrolled were arrested after being released, according to a 2012 report.

At the New York City-based Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services, known as CASES, less than 15 percent of the graduates of their court employment project have a further criminal conviction within two years of graduation.

Costs are also lower. Enrollment in ATI programs cost between $2,500 and $15,000 a year per child, compared to $200,000 a year for those in placement, according to a 2008 report from New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services.

“We need to change our lens,” said Judy Yu, associate director of LGBTQ Youth Issues at the New York City-based Correctional Association of New York, in a recent phone interview. “A lot of issues teens in the juvenile justice system face don’t need to be criminalized. Instead, we need to fix a system that is too quick to punish youth of color, and we need to provide educational opportunities and better responses to poverty as a way to help these kids.”

Yu’s Correctional Association of New York is the oldest criminal justice reform organization in the state. Her group and other advocacies are backing alternative programs that give judges in the state options beyond incarceration or probation for teens who commit crimes.

Read more of the article from Women’s here.


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