Youth in Confinement

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OCFS: the Basics

In the state of New York, children who are under the age of 16 at the time of arrest are considered juveniles. The Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) is the agency responsible for the incarceration or placement of juveniles. New York is one of two states where the legal upper age for juveniles is 15. The other is North Carolina. A youth confined in OCFS placement may be transferred to an adult prison at age 16 at the discretion of a judge, or at 18 at the discretion of OCFS. At age 21, a youth is automatically transferred to the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) to serve their remaining sentence time in adult prison.

Racial & Ethnic Inequalities

As of 9/30/2010, over 83% of youth in OCFS-operated facilities identify as African American or Hispanic.4 91% of New York City youth admitted to OCFS juvenile facilities between July 2010 and September 2010 identify as African American


In 2009, the Governor’s Task Force report and a federal Department of Justice investigation exposed system-wide abuse and neglect, including:

  • Brutal punishments for such offenses as slamming doors & taking snacks.
  • Systemic failure to provide needed mental health services.
  • Dangerous restraint tactics that resulted in broken bones, concussions, and lost teeth.

Far from Home

New York City youth made up 45% of the youth in OCFS secure residential facilities in January 2011.

Only 4 out of 23 long-term residential placement facilities are within the 5 boroughs of New York City.

Some youth are placed 6 hours away from their families.

Youth in Need

68% of youth in OCFS-operated facilities were identified at intake as needing treatment for substance abuse as of 9/30/2010.

49% needed mental health services.

46% needed special education.


A 2008 OCFS recidivism study found that 89% of boys and 81% of girls were rearrested by age 28 on felony-level charges.

The same study showed that 71% of boys and 32% of girls spent time in adult jail or prison.


Of the four OCFS-operated juvenile facilities investigated by the federal Dept. of Justice, three are still functional today.

Without sufficient funding for preventive programs, care for homeless and runaway youth, and community alternatives to detention, at-risk youth are in danger of being placed in a defunct juvenile justice system that does not provide for their diverse needs.

In order to ensure the safety of New York’s youth and communities, we must overhaul purely punitive models of justice.


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